We all hate getting the flu.
Yet every year, right around this time, viruses sweep over us like snowflakes in winter. We do what we can to stay safe, like washing our hands, getting the flu shot or avoiding any touching near our eyes. But not even vaccines are guaranteed to keep us safe, as they can only reduce the risk of getting the flu (but you should still get one, as they’re highly effective). But what if you could avoid all of the places that harbour dangerous bacteria in the first place? You might think you’re already doing that, but believe us, harmful germs have a knack for lurking in the most unexpected of places. So stay away from these 10 areas, and you’ll get through this season illness-free in no time.
It’s cold & flu season: You might want to avoid these places
Soap dispensersYou probably turn to soap for the sole purpose of hygiene, but a study found 25 per cent of dispensers are contaminated with harmful bacteria. In fact, several outbreaks reported in health care settings have been directly linked to the use of contaminated soap. The solution isn't to avoid it, though. Instead, focus on proper handwashing techniques to ensure you send all that contamination straight down the drain.Getty Images
Gas stationsKimberly-Clark Professional found that gas pump handles are the filthiest surface the average American touches on their way to work. But why are they so grimy? Well, when's the last time you saw someone clean a gas pump? Not to mention the horrors that lurk in gas station washrooms. You might want to keep some hand sanitizer nearby. ThinkStock
Parking metersAfter you pay for your gas, watch out when you park. The same study by Kimberly-Clark Professional found about 40 per cent of parking meters (parking meters?!) are teeming with foul bacteria (probably because drivers who just filled up their tank came by to park their car). We suppose that's another reason to avoid paying for parking!Getty Images
Tabletop condimentsEven if you wash your hands before eating, you could still contaminate your food. Condiment bottles in restaurants are rarely (if ever) cleaned. They also pass through the hands of many different customers and staff throughout the day. The same could be said for the menu. And that lemon wedge in your drink? A study found 53 per cent of them produce microbial growth. Eww!The Canadian Press
Crosswalk buttonsCrosswalks are made for safety. But if you had a microscope, you'd see them for the dangerous places they actually are. A study from Kimberly-Clark Professional found that 35 per cent of crosswalk buttons are contaminated. Which makes perfect sense when you consider how many different people push them all day, everyday. To reduce your risk of getting sick, try using your knuckle or elbow to hit the button instead. Getty Images
Escalator railsDr. Gerba (the same guy from the gas pump study) told CNN that he's found E. coli, urine, mucus, feces and blood on escalator handrails. Talk about a germ party! While you probably expected that escalator handrails aren't the cleanest places in the world, that doesn't seem to stop people from grabbing onto them anyway (or even blowing their nose on them, apparently). Just make sure not to touch anywhere near your eye afterwards! Getty Images
ATM buttonsYou might want to wear gloves the next time you use an ATM. Research from the Inonu University Medical School in Turkey found that banking machines can harbour dangerous bacteria, including E. coli and Staphyloccocus aureus, which can infect the skin or even cause meningitis. Out of 100 machines tested, all of them contained some form of bacteria (although it wasn't necessarily a harmful strain). Getty Images
Fitting roomsEverytime you try on a new outfit, consider that it's probably been worn by a few people before you. And unfortunately, they all leave behind bacteria. Researchers at New York University tested "new" clothes from different stores to see how contaminated they were, and the results were pretty shocking. They found feces and skin flora on a jacket, and "vaginal organisms" on a silk blouse. Make sure to run those new clothes through a hot cycle before wearing. ThinkStock
Shopping cartsWe often grab our shopping carts, and sometimes even plop our kids into them, without a thought. But a study out of the University of Arizona might make you think twice. Out of 35 shopping carts that were tested, E. coli bacteria was present on 18 of them (51 per cent). Not surprisingly, the greatest concentrations of bacteria were found both on the handles and in the seats. ThinkStock
Mailbox handlesYour local mailbox could be delivering more than just letters. A 2011 study from researchers at the University of Arizona found 68 per cent of them are infected with potentially harmful bacteria. Wear gloves, or use a napkin when opening to reduce your risk of contracting illness. Getty Images