Archive for October, 2009

How germy is that shopping cart handle?

October 18, 2009

Are you involved in germ warfare with the shopping “buggy” before heading into the supermarket?

At the grocery on Saturday, the woman ahead of me pulled a “sanitizing wipe” (the ones at Whole Foods have the lovely essence of organic lavender), took a few swipes across the shopping cart handle and tossed it as she headed into the produce section.

The Germophobe Files stopped Ivette McNeill and asked her why.

Ivette resized.jpg

“You don’t know what’s on people’s hands. There’s influenza and virus everywhere,” the 39-year-old Houston mother of three said. “You don’t want to take risks — taking things back home or getting yourself sick. The kids can be sick and somebody will take care of them. But Mommy needs to be healthy 365 days per year.”

Like others, Ivette admitted that she never thought about sanitizing her shopping cart handle until those convenient wipes appeared at market entrances.

Whole Foods wipes resized.jpg Kroger wipes resized.jpg

Should you be worried about touch and go with a supermarket cart? It depends on your immune system, said Dr. Herbert L. DuPont, an infectious disease expert at the Texas Medical Center.

“This is a relatively unimportant source of microbes for healthy people. Food that they eat is much more likely to cause problems,” he said.

But people with altered immunity — patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, congenital heart disease and insulin-dependent diabetics — should consider cleaning the cart rod.

“Anything they can do to decrease the rate of infection, they should do, and that would include being careful about surfaces they are exposed to, said DuPont, who directs the Center for Infectious Diseases at The University of Texas School of Public Health. He’s also chief of internal medicine at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital.

DuPont said the wipes kill germs, as do gels and other alcohol-based products. All are used routinely in hospitals and have been shown to decrease the spread of organisms in hand-gripping areas, such as escalator handrails and doorknobs, he said.

On carts, it’s unlikely you’ll pick up respiratory organisms — such as H1N1 (swine) flu — which tend to spread when people shake hands and have close contact with an infected person who coughs or sneezes. Those germs don’t live very long on surfaces, DuPont said.

What does hang around are “diarrhea bugs,” such as shigella, giardia and e. coli. And they require relatively low doses for infection. They might be passed along if a small child was a recent passenger in that shopping cart you just grabbed. Unlike fleeting viruses that don’t live well outside the body, “they could be there all day,” DuPont said.

Wow. That could become a real nasty issue if your kid likes to use the cart handle as a teether. It makes me want to buy the Healthy Handle. Heck, why not just bring your own cart? Or shop online with a germ-free virtual shopping cart? (OK, maybe not.)

And while the stores offer those convenient, germ-fighting cloths for free, your own fragrant 210-wipe canister at Whole Foods will set you back $29.99. No joke. The Clorox wipes are much more economical, but don’t have the organic lavender.

All that said, Dr. DuPont advises using the wipes if they’re available.

“Why not do it?” he said. “It doesn’t cost anything and you will reduce the chances of some infections.”

So, pull a wipe or two, disinfect the cart handle and take fewer bugs along on your next shopping trip.

Dodge those germs!

Posted by Cindy George at August 19, 2009 09:55 AM


Toothbrushes are a Significant Source of Bathroom Germs in the Home

October 18, 2009

Many people focus on toilets but show little concern about work stations or other major gathering places for germs, such as their own toothbrushes. Among the most germ-infested items in the average bathroom, toothbrushes acquire germs from users’ mouths, neighbouring toothbrushes, and other nearby objects. To reduce toothbrush germs:

  • Choose a toothbrush with a light-coloured or translucent head (these harbour fewer germs than dark-coloured heads).
  • Store toothbrushes an inch or more apart.
  • Buy a new toothbrush every couple of months and after suffering a cold or flu.
  • Don’t share toothbrushes.
  • Put the lid down before flushing the toilet if the toothbrush is stored in the open (flushing toilets spray a fine mist that can reach up to 20 feet).

Public Toilets

October 18, 2009

by Deborah Kay
Would you rather hold it in than use a public rest room? You’re not alone. 60% of Americans refuse to sit when they use a public toilet. Is this good, clean sense-or potty paranoia?

Rest Room Rituals

Robin – 34, stay-at-home mom
Toilet Tactic: “Instead of washing my hands, I use anti-bacterial hand sanitizer that I always carry in my purse.”
Reality Check: Faucet handles in public rest rooms can hold up to 50,000 germs per square inch, but a thorough hand-washing with plain soap will remove up to 95% of bacteria and viruses-the same as using antibacterial soap or sanitizer. Avoid wet bar soap, though; stagnant water can harbor bacteria. (If faced with a soapy bar, rinse it under water for 30 seconds.)

Amy30, art director
Toilet Tactic: “I try not to touch anything. I kick open the stall door with my foot and flush with it, too.”
Reality Check: Not touching anything is wise, since you can pick up cold, flu, and intestinal viruses from contaminated surfaces. But you can safely use your hands as long as you use a wad of toilet paper as a barrier against handles, lids and tampon bins (the germiest place in the bathroom-thanks to people’s hands touching them, not menstrual blood).

Katrina32, corporate media-relations director
Toilet Tactic: “I’m always totally freaked out that I might catch something from the seat, so I keep seat covers in my car.”
Reality Check: Even if you sit on a toilet seat right after someone with a sexually transmitted disease has, it’s practically impossible to get infected, says Phillip Tierno, Ph.D., author of The Secret Life of Germs. Urine itself is sterile, so you’re just as safe drying a wet seat with tissue as you are sitting on a paper liner.

Joy28, music consultant
Toilet Tactic: “I’ll only use a stall that’s completely free of remnants. Even a stray hair on the toilet seat makes me go to the next one.”
Reality Check: Choose the first stall in the row. Studies show they get the least use, so they’re the cleanest-and the most likely to have toilet paper. Otherwise, check the men’s room. They’ve been shown to harbor fewer bacteria than women’s rest rooms (there’s less kiddie traffic). If it’s empty, go for it.

How to Make a Clean Getaway

  • Use the right roll: Instead of using an unwrapped roll, use toilet paper from within the dispenser-it hasn’t been exposed to as many germs.
  • Lower the seat lid before flushing: Toilets can spray fecal-infected water into the air if you leave the top up. No lid? “Flush and run,” says Dr. Tierno.
  • Lather up: Scrub your hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds-any less time and you’re not getting rid of germs. Rinse, then repeat.
  • Towel off: Paper towels from an enclosed holder are best. Pass on air dryers-they blow the room’s germy air right onto your hands.

To Squat or Not?

Who hasn’t hovered over a seat to pee? Problem is since the position isn’t really relaxing, your bladder may not empty completely. The residual urine can breed bacteria, leading to a urinary-tract infection. The habit can also cause incontinence later in life. Bottom line: squatting once or twice a week won’t lead to problems, but more can.

Just How Germ-Infested are the Hotel Rooms You Stay In? What are the Risks?

October 18, 2009


Many Americans will spend the night in a hotel room 10 to 20 times a year, and some, particularly those who travel for business, many more. While the last thing you want to think about when you check into your home-away-from-home is what might be lurking on the sheets, the bedspread, the shower stall or the desk chair, a new study has found that it deserves some attention.

hotel room secrets dirty

ABC News investigators found traces of urine or semen in every hotel room they tested.

Viruses Remain After Guests Check-Out

University of Virginia researchers decided to find out whether rhinoviruses, the type of virus responsible for about half of all colds, remain in hotel rooms after their host leaves.

“We know that viruses can survive on surfaces for a long time — more than four days,” said Dr. Birgit Winther, a University of Virginia ear, nose and throat specialist who led the study.

For the study, 15 people with rhinovirus colds each spent the night in a hotel room. After they left, 10 items they had touched were tested for the rhinovirus, and one-third were found to be contaminated. Specifically, the virus was found on:

  • Seven out of 14 door handles
  • Six of 14 pens
  • Six out of 15 light switches, TV remotes and faucets
  • Five of 15 phones
  • Shower curtains, coffee makers and alarm clocks

“We were surprised to find so many,” Winther said.

It’s worth mentioning that the samples were taken before the rooms were cleaned, so hotels’ disinfecting processes may remove some of the contaminants before a new guest checks in.

“We do wipe everything down, from the remote control to the telephone,” said Michelle Pike, corporate director of housekeeping for Hilton brand hotels.

The study concluded several months later when five of the 15 participants visited hotel rooms that had been deliberately contaminated with their own mucus (which had been frozen while they had their colds). Their hands were then tested for viruses, which turned up on 60 percent of contacts in rooms where the mucus had dried for at least an hour, and on 33 percent of those in rooms where the mucus had dried overnight.

Bedbugs, Dried Semen and Urine

A separate study by ABC News Primetime also uncovered some things you probably don’t want to know about in hotel rooms. The team visited 20 well-known hotels in New York, Miami, Houston and Los Angeles, and used a black light to determine how clean the rooms were.

bedspread hotel

Always remove the bedspread before lounging on a hotel room bed — they’re usually not cleaned in between guests.

At every hotel they visited, from a one-star hotel with rates at $55 a night to a five-star hotel with rooms that cost $400 a night, lab results showed evidence of urine or semen in every room tested. Bed bugs have also turned up at even high-level hotels. Some specifics:

  • Dried semen on the bedspread and urine stains on the walls of a $300-a-night room in “one of New York’s finest hotels.”
  • Trails of urine on the bedroom carpeting in a well-known Miami hotel.
  • Traces of urine on the walls, bedspread, chairs, bathroom vanity stool and carpeting near the bed at a four-star resort.

“There’s a lot going on behind those doors,” said Dr. Mark Callahan, a physician at New York Presbyterian Hospital. “And the reality is that the hotels are not going to be wiping down the walls and those surfaces.”

Is Staying in a Hotel Room Risky?

Though the thought of leftover viruses, urine and other unmentionables in your hotel room is disgusting, most experts say the risks of actually getting sick from hotel germs is pretty low.

Still, 80 percent of infections are spread by someone touching a germ-infested surface, or getting germ particles from a sneeze, cough or touch onto their hands.

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“Whether germs are viral, bacterial, or fungal, some can remain active on most surfaces for several days — no matter whether the surface is stainless steel, wood, plastic, or even the paper in a magazine,” says Elaine Jong, MD, co-director of the University of Washington Travel Clinic in Seattle.

And while most hotels do lighter cleaning like dusting, vacuuming and disinfecting daily, in reality, most hotels only do “deep” cleaning four times a year, on average, which means there’s a good chance some germs may be left behind by the cleaning people.

What can you do to minimize your risks and stay as germ-free as possible while staying in a hotel? Plenty.

  1. Wash your hands regularly and often. This is particularly important before eating, touching your mouth, eyes, nose or face, and after you’ve been out.
  2. Choose rooms that cost over $50 a night. Although the ABC News study found contaminants in rooms of all price ranges, University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba, PhD, who’s also known as “Dr. Germ,” believes spending a little more may pay off.”I did a study about seven years that found if you paid more than $50 a night, there was a much greater chance that the room was regularly disinfected. Rooms under $50 weren’t.”
  3. Take off the bedspread. The bedspread is usually full of contaminants, as it’s often not cleaned in between guests.
  4. Pack your own sheets. If you’re concerned about what may be on the hotel sheets, just bring your own. Alternatively, sleep in long-sleeved, long pants pajamas and check the hotel sheets for rust-colored stains, which may be a sign of bedbugs.
  5. Carry with you, and use, sanitizing wipes. We like the PerfectClean terry cloths and super silk cloths, which have an ultramicrofiber construction that enables them to reach deep into microscopic crevices to actually remove microscopic dirt and bacteria. Use them to wipe down surfaces that may contain germs, such as the TV remote control, light switches, bathroom faucet, and coffee maker handle.
  6. Ask for an allergy-free room. Some hotels have rooms that keep dust mites, allergens, and perhaps other germs, to a minimum. Other hotels have “allergy packs” that provide the guest with special pillows and mattress covers (which may be cleaner than the regular variety).
  7. Pack rubber thongs (flip-flops) or slippers. Wear them at all times in the hotel room, rather than walking barefoot.

Cleanliness Rules Germaphobes’ Lives

October 18, 2009

Germaphobes are obsessed with sanitation and feel compelled to clean excessively, but they’re really suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.

By Leanna Skarnulis WebMD Feature Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

In the Monk TV series, gentle detective Adrian Monk works the grimy streets of San Francisco but is so driven by a fear of germs that he must scrub his hands after shaking hands with someone. Monk has been called the “poster boy” for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In fact, in an informal survey conducted by the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation, OCD patients said they liked the character, who triumphs even when his condition interferes with his ability to do his work.

Monk is a “germaphobe,” the popular name for people who become obsessed with germs and dirt and feel compelled to act out rituals of washing and cleaning. Real people with this condition include the late Howard Hughes and Saddam Hussein, who reportedly often ordered visitors to strip and wash with antibacterial soap.

True germaphobes have OCD, which can take various forms. For example, some people with OCD are “checkers.” They’re obsessed with a fear of losing control of aggressive urges, and their anxiety can be relieved only by checking something, such as whether a burner on the stove has been turned off. Hoarding, counting, and praying are some other manifestations of the disease. People often have multiple forms of OCD.

What Causes the Compulsion to Wash?

OCD is believed to be caused by an abnormality in the brain’s circuitry. Brain scans show brain activity is different in people with OCD. There’s probably a genetic component as well, especially when OCD begins in childhood. One-third to one-half of adults with OCD say their illness started in childhood or adolescence.

Why someone with the disease is compelled to wash, as opposed to check or count or hoard, isn’t known. What’s true with all types of OCD is that a compulsion is acted out to relieve anxiety produced by an obsessive, intrusive thought. For example, a woman accidentally cuts herself, washes the wound, puts antibacterial ointment on it, and bandages it. That should be that, but an anxious feeling and thought intrude: what if microscopic germs remain? She knows it’s irrational, but she’s compelled to wash the cut again in order to relieve the anxiety. She may have to repeat the act over and over.

When Is Cleanliness a Problem?

Every office has its neat freak. Maybe it’s the woman who cleans her cubicle every morning and keeps everything arranged just so. Is she just a perfectionist or is she driven by OCD? It can be hard to tell at first because OCD is a secretive illness, says Mary Guardino. She is the executive director of Freedom From Fear, the national mental illness advocacy organization she founded in Staten Island, N.Y., in 1984. “When you first meet her, you notice how nice and organized and clean everything is. But she may be hiding her rituals. If she heard a co-worker got the flu, she’d fear she might have touched something that person handled, so she’ll sneak into the bathroom to wash.”

Guardino says a clinician looks for these signs of OCD:

  • The obsession with contamination is gradually taking over the person’s life and actions.
  • The individual engages in ritual cleaning or washing at least one hour a day.
  • Acting out the rituals is done to relieve anxiety.
  • The person knows the obsession with germs is foolish but feels compelled to wash or clean over and over.

“People who have OCD really don’t want to be that way,” Guardino tells WebMD. On the other hand, people who have obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), which is less serious than OCD, pride themselves on being neat freaks. Felix Unger, of The Odd Couple, for example. “It didn’t bother Felix that he ran around with a paper towel and Windex. It bothered Oscar. Also Felix probably didn’t clean a surface over and over. He thought his behavior was appropriate because he needed to have things perfect. He didn’t want to change.”

Treatment With Medication and Therapy

The most effective treatment combines medication, usually one of several antidepressants, and a form of cognitive behavioral therapy called “response prevention” or “exposure and response therapy.”

“The object of response prevention therapy is to delay implementation of the ritual,” says Guardino, whose expertise and advocacy grew out of her own 25-year battle with anxiety and depression. “The longer you delay it, you will get slowly over time a decrease in the anxiety to enact the ritual.”

For example, the therapist might tell a patient that after washing her hands once, she must wait 15 minutes before washing them again. Gradually the length of time is increased until the patient can wash just once without feeling compelled to wash again. Successful treatment produces a change in brain activity and, for most patients, at least partial remission of the disease.

The Role of Family Members

Families often make the mistake of enabling loved ones with OCD. “A man who sees his wife cleaning the house three or four hours a day may at first think he’s got the world’s greatest wife,” says Guardino. “But over time he sees her energy level go down, she’s irritable, and there’s something bizarre about her cleaning. So he reads about OCD on WebMD and gets her into treatment.”

Family members can play an important role in carrying out response prevention treatment prescribed by a therapist. “After dinner, the wife jumps up to clear the table and get the bleach, but the husband tells her, ‘Sit down for half an hour, we’re listening to Mozart,'” says Guardino. “In the morning he says, ‘I’m throwing my pajamas on the floor and I want them there when I get home tonight.”

Do Germaphobes Know Something Others Don’t?

You might think you could get expert advice about SARS or flu or another infectious disease from a germaphobe. You’d probably be wrong. Guardino tells WebMD germaphobes act on irrational fears, not on knowledge.

In fact, cleaning rituals may increase their risk for infection. “They use a lot of bleach, and most spend at least half an hour in the shower, so their skin is dry and cracked,” she says.

She adds that people who study germs obsessively typically have a form of hypochondria, not OCD. “They spend all their time seeking information. The washers are too busy acting out their rituals to seek information.”

It’s true that hand washing is the single most important thing you can do to prevent catching an infectious disease, including colds, flu, hepatitis A, meningitis, and infectious diarrhea, according to the CDC. But that’s not license to scrub hands raw. CDC guidelines recommend washing:

  • Before and after you prepare food
  • Before you eat
  • After you use the bathroom
  • After handling animals or animal waste
  • After coughing or sneezing
  • When your hands are dirty
  • More frequently if someone in your home is sick

To wash properly:

  • Wet your hands and apply liquid or clean bar soap. Place bar soap on a soap dish that allows it to drain.
  • Rub your hands together vigorously, scrubbing all surfaces for 15 to 20 seconds. That’s about how long it takes to hum “Happy Birthday” twice.
  • Rinse well and dry your hands. In a public restroom, use the air dryer or paper towels.
  • In the absence of soap and water, use alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers.


Guardino recommends several self-help books: The OCD Workbook: Your Guide to Breaking Free from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, by Bruce M. Hyman, PhD; Stop Obsessing! How to Overcome Your Obsessions and Compulsions, by Edna B. Foa, PhD, and Reid Wilson, PhD; Everything In Its Place: My Trials and Triumphs With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, by Marc Summers and Eric Hollander, MD; and OCD Casebook: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, by John H. Greist and James W. Jefferson.

In addition, the Freedom From Fear web site has a directory of mental health professionals that can be searched by ZIP code. “We only list people who will give the first consultation free,” says Guardino. “We know a free consultation will increase the probability that people will get into the mental health system.”

Women’s Hands Home to More Types of Germs

October 11, 2009

But all palms contain 100 times the bacteria assumed, scientists say

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Nov. 4 (HealthDay News) — Women’s hands have a veritable United Nations of germs compared to men’s, a new study finds.

But both genders house vastly more bacteria on their palms than previously suspected, according to a new study from University of Colorado researchers that appears in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The information may enable scientists to figure out what a “healthy” level of bacteria is, diagnose diseases more precisely, and perhaps even get advance warning that something is going wrong.

“The findings of the last few decades suggest that many diseases are due to many organisms, and it’s the concerted change that leads to disease,” noted Robert E. Marquis, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Microbes are one of the last frontiers for human exploration. In fact, the National Institutes of Health has initiated the Human Microbiome Project, with the objective of mapping human microbiota, most of which is currently unknown.

“With all the bacteria in the world, we probably know of less than 1 percent of them,” Marquis said.

The technology used in this study, already used to study ocean waters, will help enable scientists to encounter the other 99 percent, he said.

The skin, particularly the palms of the hands, house thriving bacterial communities. To get a sense of the flora residing there, researchers scrutinized the palms of 51 undergraduate students for bacteria, just after the students had finished their academic exams.

A sampling of the entire DNA of microbes (known as metagenomics) revealed some 332,000 gene sequences, or about 100 times more than was found in previous studies of skin bacteria.

On average, each hand was home to about 150 different species of bacteria. Overall, more than 4,700 bacterial species were identified on all hands, only five of which were common among all volunteers.

Only 17 percent of bacteria types were shared between right and left palms, while volunteers shared just 13 percent of bacteria species with each other, probably due to “environmental” conditions, such as oil production, skin dryness, and what surfaces the hand had previously touched.

Skin bacteria was more diverse than bacteria found on the forearm or elbows or, indeed, other parts of the body including the mouth and gut.

Women had more germ diversity than men, possibly due to different acidities on the hands, different hand-washing regimens, differential production of sweat, variable hormones and how often moisturizers or cosmetics are applied.

In general, hand washing did not seem to affect the diversity of bacteria (though it’s still a good practice, the researchers stressed). Either the bacteria come back quickly after hand washing (at least the kind of hand washing practiced by these volunteers) or hand washing just doesn’t dislodge bacteria, they said.

New Study Finds Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria on Remote Control

October 11, 2009

New Study Finds Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria on Remote Control

A recent University of Arizona TV Remote Control Study, by Dr. Chuck Gerba, ranks the TV remote control as holding the highest level of bacteria in a patient’s hospital room. The bacteria can lead to Nosocomial Infection, or hospital-acquired infection.

Among the bacteria found, MRSA the dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria were only discovered on the remote controls. There were no traces of it on any other objects tested.

The Study was conducted in June, July and August 2005. The study involved 15 hospital rooms to determine if the greatest number of bacteria in a patient’s room occurs on the remote control.

Study Results
-The average total bacteria on the remote controls was 320.
-The average total bacteria on sites in the hospital room was 91.
-The average total bacteria on newly opened disposable remotes was 8.35. There was no detection of Staphylococcus Aureus on newly opened disposable remotes.
-MRSA bacteria were present on television remote controls in patient hospital rooms.

Note: Each remote was tested after the patient was released and the patient room was cleaned.

Staggering Statistics
-Nosocomial Infection – Hospital-Acquired Infections
-More than 2 million Americans acquire hospital-related infections each year.
-Almost 90,000 deaths are reported each year due to nosocomial infections.
-Patients with Staph infections spend an average of 14 days in the hospital compared to other patients.
-Each year, patients with hospital-acquired infections increase hospital bills by more than $9.5 billion

Don’t take a change- use a new Germ Free Remotes bag each time to take care of this problem before it even starts!

Experiment Shows How Germs Can Overtake Classroom

October 11, 2009

Blacklight Experiment Demonstrates How 2 Kids With Germs Can Turn Into Class Contamination


In one fourth-grade class at Lafayette Elementary School in Washington, D.C., proper hygiene is part of the lesson plan. With a classroom full of active, physical kids — at least one of whom always seems to have a cough or sniffle — it had better be. The classroom can be a Petri dish for germs.

“Whenever we send our children to school, they are going to share whatever germs and infections with the children around them,” said Dr. Richard Besser, former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a consultant for ABC News. Every little itch, every yawn, every sneeze, every furtive pick of the nose is potentially contagious.

To illustrate just how easy it is for germs — and viruses such as the H1N1 flu — to spread, Besser designed a classroom demonstration, caught by news cameras.

“We’re going to be doing an experiment on how germs spread,” explained Besser. The key to the experiment was a harmless powder Besser put on the hands of two students, Mae and Martin, functionally “infecting” them. Then the class took part in what the rest of the students thought was an ordinary science lab.

For the lab, Mae and Martin passed around school supplies. Their little hands touched other little hands. Supplies were shared, borrowed and returned. By the end of an hour, everything had been passed around.

And then it was time to explain the real purpose of the exercise.

It turned out that the powder was detectable under a blacklight. When Besser made the room dark and flipped the blacklight on, specks of powder were visible everywhere — on dozens of hands, noses, mouths.

“What we wanted to see was, if these two were sick and had germs on their hands, how many of you ended up with germs on your hands or your face?” Besser asked.

The answer was simple: everyone.

“Look at all those germs!” the doctor exclaimed.

The kids were clearly intrigued. They piped up when Besser asked what they had learned.

“Germs can spread when you just shake hands,” said one student.

“Germs can spread when you touch different places, like they can get in your eye if you rub your eye,” said another.

“No matter where you touch your body, you put germs there,” said a third.

Key Lesson: Keep Sick Children Home

But were the experiment results — with every child having “contracted” the germ — typical, at least in a fourth-grade setting?

“That’s typical,” said Besser. “If you look at how children play, they’re sharing, they’re touching, they’re touching their face. So germs from one child will go to another child and go to that child’s face.”

The fact that all the kids got powder on their bodies did not mean that in the case of actual germs, everyone would have gotten sick, however, Besser said.

“Depends on how many germs they picked up, depends on underlying health,” he said. “But many of the children would have gotten sick.”

Besser said that, unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot parents can do to keep their children from getting exposed to germs. But, he added, once a parent knows a child is contagious, it’s up to the parents to avoid infecting the whole school.

The take-away message is that germs spread in a classroom. So if your child is sick, don’t send them to school.

Many children in the class had a strong understanding of basic hygiene already. Some even had made their own refinements. One student explained handwashing.

“You get in between your fingers to get the soap out,” the student said. “Because soap is a lubricant.”

“I heard that if you don’t have soap, that rubbing does half the work,” another student added.

“I heard that if you don’t have a sink and, say, you have a towel, you could rub your hands on a towel,” said a third.

“But that would make the towel infected!”

“You could throw it out!”

“Why would you waste the money?”

Besser broke in on the debate.

“Well, if you have a Kleenex or a handkerchief, that could work,” he said.

The relish with which the children discussed the finer points of hand-washing was almost enough to give rise to concerns we’re producing a generation of germophobes.

Except that kids are still kids.

The children were asked how many of them had lied to a parent about washing their hands when they were told. All the students confessed.

“I think some children will be very worried [about germs], Besser said. “It’s important to put it in perspective. Most germs are not harmful. We need germs.

“I think we need to understand how germs are transmitted and to understand what we can do as a community and in our school to reduce the impact of infections.”

Peace of Mind From a Whiff of Bleach

October 11, 2009

By ALAN BRILL 5/26/09

I’M in the toilet seat business. My company makes a computerized toilet seat. Basically, the patron never has to touch anything because the computer automatically changes the plastic sleeve that covers the seat.

When I tell my seat mates I’m the guy that makes that computerized toilet seat, women always seem to ask the same question: Why don’t they have them in airplanes?

Most of them know about the product because the seats are in lots of casinos, restaurants, country clubs and 15 airports. But no airplanes.

The reason is simple: If the airline is charging you a bag fee, do you think they are going to spend money on my product? The answer is no. It’s all finances. A few women I’ve met on flights loved the product so much they gave me a little peck on the cheek.

And those kisses are O.K. by me, even though I’m a germophobe and proud of it.

I’m not as bad as Howard Hughes, but I have to say I absolutely abhor the bathrooms on airplanes. Think about it. They are dirty, filthy cesspools. I like to call them “the United Nation of germs.” How many times have you ever seen an attendant go to the back of the plane with cleaning products to tidy up that bathroom? We’re lucky we get a glass of water in flight nowadays. I’m sure we’ll have to pay for that soon.

In my various travels, I’ve learned what airports have the cleanest bathrooms and those that are just a mess. My favorite airports in terms of cleanliness are the Portland Jet Port in Maine and the Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City. Because the airports are small, cleaning crews are working all the time. I love the smell of bleach in the morning.

I hate having to go through the big hub airports like Houston and Atlanta. There are so many people going through the airport and using the facilities that there really is no downtime, making it impossible for a cleaning crew to keep up.

But I have managed to find ways around my germ-phobia. I carry antibacterial wipes with me wherever I go.

And I am not too proud to use them on the door handles of the plane’s restroom before I even open the door. And whether it’s on the plane or in one of those big airports, I’m not too proud to wipe everything down myself.

Considering all the problems that we are having with weird mutating germs, I think I’m pretty smart. I am spending a lot of money on those antibacterial wipes, though. So I wish the stock market was doing better.

Since I am first and foremost a salesperson, I have this watch that I wear that has a toilet seat-shaped logo. I made it as a promotion to give to clients and potential clients. It’s a great conversation starter.

Back in 1996, I was flying from Newark to New Orleans. My seat mate was a fellow who just happened to be the chief executive officer of a small casino. He looked at me kind of funny and then commented on my watch. Anyway, we got to talking and he bought some of my seats, about 60 of them, for his casino. Now, he’s a huge deal in the business. And guess what? Today, he is my largest client, with nearly 700 of my seats in his casinos.

It just goes to show that you never know who are you are going to meet on a plane. So I keep on traveling, despite the germs. I just wish I could buy those antibacterial wipes by the truckload.

By Alan Brill, as told to Joan Raymond. E-mail: