Places That Will Make You Sick
Germs are everywhere, including on the computer or phone you're reading this on right now. However, some places you go to everyday—many you would never expect—are petri dishes for illness-inducing bacteria and hot zones for disease. While hermitizing isn't the solution—hey, even your home can make you sick!—staying educated about the germiest places is incredibly beneficial in preventing unnecessary cold, flus or worse.
Here from Eat This, Not That! Health are 16 places that will make you sick, as well as prevention tips from the nation's top doctors.
So many people get sick after traveling via airplane, mostly due to the close quarters, uncleaned services, and stagnant air. "During travel, you're typically in close contact with a large number of people, and you have a very limited ability to move yourself away from someone who may be sick," explains Richard Martinello, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease expert. Any surfaces on the aircraft—especially those oh-so-dreadful lavatories—can be heavily used, and contaminated. Unfortunately, the flight crew doesn't always have time to thoroughly clean the airplane in-between flights, so it's likely germs are lurking everywhere. Read on to see how to protect yourself.
How to Stay Healthy on an Airplane
First, Dr. Martinello urges the importance of keeping your vaccinations up to date. If you are traveling in the fall, try to get your flu shot at least two weeks before you travel. Also, wash your hands often. "Soap and water will help to remove any soiling from your hand. Waterless, alcohol based hand rubs can be more effective than soap and water for most germs. Bring alcohol hand rubs or wipes with you so you can wash your hands when needed," he suggests. You can also use a disinfectant wipe to clean your tray. Lastly, try and keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.
"If you must scratch your eyes, rub your nose or put your fingers in your mouth, be sure to wash your hands or sanitize your hands with an alcohol based hand rub," Dr. Marinello suggests. "Most viruses which cause colds, sore throats or diarrhea can be picked up from surfaces by our fingers and hands. If we rub our eyes, nose or mouth or otherwise touch these areas with our contaminated hands, we can easily get sick from these germs."
Daycares and Schools
Schools and daycares can seriously compromise your health because of the close contact with others and the fact that surfaces may be contaminated with others' germs, points out Dr. Martinello. Also, lots of parents send their kids to school sick, sometimes knowingly because of a lack of childcare, infecting others.
How to Stay Healthy if Your Child Goes to School
Again, make sure you and your childrens' vaccinations are up to date. Dr. Martinello reiterates that it's best to get the flu shot before influenza starts to spread in your community. (The CDC recommends getting vaccinated against the flu before the end of October.) Make sure your child knows to wash their hands frequently, and, if allowed by the school, consider linking a portable hand sanitizer bottle to your child's lunchbox. Lastly, don't send them to school if they are sick!
For the exact same reasons as schools and daycares, the office is the perfect place to catch something. You're in a communal workspace, sharing a bathroom, kitchen, chairs, couches—sometimes even mugs. And they're not even your family.
How to Stay Healthy at the Office
Again, washing your hands frequently is crucial. "Soap and water will help to remove any soiling from your hand. Waterless, alcohol based hand rubs can be more effective than soap and water for most germs. Bring alcohol hand rubs or wipes with you, on your desk, or in your bag so you can wash your hands when needed," he says. (Keep your keyboard clean, too.) Last but not least, stay home when sick—and this goes for everybody! "No one likes to have someone sick around them," he says. "It's best to stay home until your fever is gone and you're feeling better." Don't forget to keep hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth, and if you must scratch your eyes, rub your nose or put your fingers in your mouth, be sure to wash your hands or sanitize your hands with an alcohol based hand rub.
Sick family members are a huge threat when it comes to illness, according to Dr. Martinello. "When a family member is sick, we often have close contact with them and surfaces which they may have contaminated, such as the toilet, especially if you're responsible for caring for them," he explains.
How to Stay Healthy at Home
Again, make sure your vaccinations are up to date. Also, if your family member is sick, give them space and have them stay in a separate room if possible. "If they have diarrhea or vomiting, if it is possible to have a bathroom dedicated for their use, it can help to limit others from being exposed to their germs," Dr. Martinello points out. If this is not possible, frequently clean the surfaces of the bathroom with a disinfectant following the label instructions and don't share a towel for drying hands—use a roll of disposable paper towels. Also, do not share a bar of soap — this too can become contaminated. Also, try to limit the number of persons who have direct contact with the sick family member. "If that caregiver gets sick, the chances will be better that a healthy person will be available to help them through their illness," he says.
Raw meat and eggs, even when perfectly fresh and wholesome, may be contaminated with bacteria which can make you ill, explains Dr. Martinello. "The risk for getting sick from this made worse if you contaminate surfaces, such as the countertop and your hands, and transfer the contamination to other surfaces and foods," he explains.
How to Stay Healthy in Your Kitchen
Always follow safe food preparation practices, instructs Dr. Martinello. This includes the following:
- Limit the surfaces exposed to raw meats or eggs
- Make sure that raw meat or eggs don't splash other foods- especially those, such as lettuce, which you will not be cooking
- Wash the utensils used for raw meats/eggs thoroughly before using them on any other foods
- Clean the surface(s) potentially contaminated by raw meat/eggs with a disinfectant solution following the label instructions for use before allowing any other foods or clean dishes, utensils, etc. to touch those surfaces
- Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after touching raw meats/eggs or any surfaces, utensils, etc. potentially contaminated by the raw meat/eggs
- Make sure you thoroughly cook raw meat/eggs to kill any bacteria which may be present. Use a thermometer to ensure the food is hot enough to kill any germs.
- Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Refrigerate leftovers immediately
Most of us don't think about how our basement might be impacting our health, but according to Dean Mitchell, MD, board certified allergist and immunologist, of Mitchell Medical Group, we definitely should. "Moldy basements can make a person ill," he explains. "Mold doesn't just smell bad but molds can give off mycotoxins that can cause rashes, asthma, headaches and fatigue."
How to Stay Healthy in Your Basement
The best way to eradicate mold, according to Dr. Mitchell, is by reducing humidity. You can easily do this with the help of a dehumidifier unit.
With all the sweating going on, it should come as zero surprise that the gym is a breeding ground for germs. "The gym is a place where a lot of people get sick from not cleaning off equipment between usage," states Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center.
How to Stay Healthy at the Gym
After lifting or doing cardio, Dr. Conrad urges the importance of always wiping down machines with alcohol pads or at least paper towels before and after use. "Gym attendants should wipe down all machines with an alcohol spray once an hour to help spread germs as well," he points out.
The mall is a great place to get all your shopping done, but it can also harbor a lot of germs. "Germs are everywhere from doors, hangers, and money," Michelle Reed, DO, MS Family Medicine points out. "Additionally, there are all those people coughing and sneezing as you walk past them."
How to Stay Healthy at the Mall
Wash your hands—a lot. "Wash your hands before eating and after touching money," Dr. Reed urges. "Do not touch your face or nose without washing your hands."
Indoor Play Spaces
Indoor play spaces might seem like just what the doctor ordered as a great way to kill a day with your kids—especially in the winter—but according to Annette Cameron, MD, a Yale Medicine pediatrician, they are a breeding ground for germs. She notes to be incredibly wary of the ball pits and play tunnels, which are rarely cleaned. "These make you sick because children who are harboring viruses and bacteria will cough, drool, sneeze, vomit, urinate etc. on or in these places and then other healthy children will touch or mouth these objects and become sick," she points out.
How to Stay Healthy in Indoor Play Spaces
Dr. Cameron suggests avoiding indoor play spaces during the height of flu and respiratory virus season—namely fall and winter—and altogether if possible. "If you must go wash hands or use hand sanitizer frequently," she suggests. "If you see someone visibly sick—leave!"
Similar to airplanes, enclosed areas such as public transportation are other places that can compromise your health. "These make you sick because you are in an enclosed space sharing the air with potentially sick people, who if coughing or sneezing can transmit the germs through the air," Dr. Cameron explains. Most respiratory viruses can be spread through the air via droplets and many can survive for some time on inanimate objects like doorknobs, tables and other surfaces.
How to Stay Healthy on Public Transportation
Dr. Cameron suggests avoiding public transportation as much as possible. However, if you do use it, bring along some hand sanitizer or antibacterial wipes, which you can use to wipe down your space.
Most of us consider hospitals to be safe havens when it comes to our health, however, it is very much the opposite. One of the worst places for germs is actually the emergency room. "Spending a long time in a place where others may be sick and are coughing, sneezing near you will probably make you sick," Dr. Cameron points out.
How to Stay Healthy in Hospitals
Avoid the emergency department unless it is a true emergency, suggests Dr. Cameron. "If at all possible try to go to your doctor's office instead."
There are so many ways your grocery store can incite illness—from foods contaminated with e.coli (and juices leaking out of the package) to all the fridge handles that have been touched by germ-ridden hands. One scary study discovered 33,340 bacteria colonies per square inch—more than 1,235 times the bacteria found on the average cell phone.
How to Stay Healthy at the Grocery Store
Consider antibacterial wipes your best friend—and don't even think about putting your hands near your face after handling anything during your grocery shopping trip.
With all the stories in recent years about mass illnesses on cruise ships, it should come as zero surprise that the sailing the seas can have a not-so-friendly impact on your health. In fact, the CDC has an entire page devoted to "Outbreak Updates for International Cruise Ships" listing all of the illnesses reported on the vessels. There have been a total of nine outbreaks reported in 2019 alone, eight of them being norovirus, the extremely contagious food-bourne illness.
How to Stay Healthy on Cruise Ships
It's probably a good idea to avoid hopping aboard a cruise ship. If you do go on one, the CDC recommends using proper handwashing techniques throughout your voyage, but especially after using the bathroom and before eating, avoiding any food or water that you think may be contaminated, avoiding raw or undercooked shellfish, avoiding unnecessary direct hand contact with surfaces such as public toilet room door handles, and avoiding unnecessary close contact with ill persons.
For obvious reasons, public restrooms are full of germs. So many different diseases are carried through fecal matter, and it's very likely that little particles of poop make their way onto handles, stall walls, and are even blowing through the air. One 2018 study found that bathroom hand blowers suck up bacteria from the air and distribute them onto newly washed hands.
How to Stay Healthy in Public Bathrooms
If you are using a public bathroom always wash your hands immediately afterwards—and use paper towels instead of the hand dryer. You also might want to consider using hand sanitizer after touching any door knobs in there as well.
Movie theaters are one of the more unexpected places where germs tend to congregate. In 2014, ABC's 20/20 investigated movie theaters in Los Angeles and New York—and what they found was super scary. Theater seats were seriously contaminated with bacteria found in cattle and soil, and also bacteria commonly found in human feces and yeast—and it often makes its way into your food. According to The Washington Post, a whopping 85 percent of the handfuls of popcorn touched with hands inoculated with E. coli contained the bacteria, while 79 percent of the popcorn samples remaining in the tub contained E. coli transferred from the person taking a handful of popcorn from the same bowl.
How to Stay Healthy at the Movie Theater
If you go to the movies, bring hand sanitizer and try and avoid touching your seat as much as possible!
With so many different hands touching the screen and buttons of a cash machine, it makes total sense that germs can be easily spread. One recent study found that ATMs are more germy than public bathroom door handles!
How to Stay Healthy at the ATM
When using the ATM, keep your hand sanitizer handy! You'll save money (on medical expenses) in the end. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these 70 Things You Should Never Do For Your Health.