Where Do Germs Lurk? New Survey Shows Most Americans Don't Know

UA News Services
June 23, 2004

A new survey shows that most Americans don't realize that germs are hiding on many common objects outdoors, in their offices, and even in their homes.

Playground equipment, picnic tables, ATMs, kitchen sinks, office desks, computer keyboards, and escalator handrails are the places that are "germier" than most people think.

"This survey shows that people have a false sense of security when it comes to germs," said Charles Gerba -- a.k.a. "Dr. Germ" -- a professor at the University of Arizona and one of the nation's leading experts on environmental microbiology. "This lack of knowledge about where germs lurk is a real health problem, because people touch these objects and 80 percent of infections are spread through hand contact. The solution is to practice proper hand hygiene by washing with soap and water or by using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer such as Purell."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that hand hygiene is an important way to prevent the spread of germs that may make you and others sick, and recommends alcohol-based hand sanitizers as an alternative to hand washing.

The survey also demonstrated that although the need for proper hand hygiene is great, most Americans admit they don't clean their hands often enough. Seventy percent of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement, "I should clean my hands more often than I do," and 91 percent strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement, "Most people don't clean their hands as often as they should."

Key findings from the survey:

  • Sixty-four percent of the public thought that a public restroom doorknob has more germs than an ATM but -- surprise! -- ATMs have more germs
  • Most people are unaware that the kitchen sink is one of the germiest places in the house; it's even more contaminated with bacteria than the toilet bowl and garbage can
  • Most people aren't aware that their office desks, computer keyboards, and elevator buttons in their office buildings are "germier" than the toilet seat at work
  • Surprisingly, outdoor port-o-potties are actually cleaner than picnic tables, shopping cart handles, escalator handles, and playground equipment. Playground equipment is the dirtiest of the bunch, presenting a health danger to children. Only nine percent of respondents identified playground equipment as the germiest of outdoor items.

It is a common misconception that most illnesses are spread through the air by coughs and sneezes, rather than by hand contact. This misunderstanding could be why 51 percent of survey respondents said they clean their hands after sneezing or coughing, while only 17 percent said they clean their hands always or most of the time after shaking hands.

The telephone survey was conducted by Opinion Research Corporation's CARAVAN National Omnibus from May 6, 2004, through May 9, 2004. A representative sample of 1,000 adults, aged 18 and older, participated in the survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent. The survey was funded by GOJO Industries.




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