Whether you’re trying to prevent the flu, the common cold or other illnesses, when it comes to outsmarting germs, knowledge is power. But how much you actually know about our invisible adversaries? Learn how to protect your family and yourself this season by testing your knowledge with our quiz – filled with tips from Charles Gerba, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona and co-author of The Germ Freak’s Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu.
1. What’s the best way to get rid of germs and viruses on your hands?
a. Soap and hot water
b. Soap and warm water
c. Hand sanitizer
If you’re at home, washing your hands the old-fashioned way is best. But you’ve got to do it right: Rub the top and bottom of your hands with soap and water for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice, then rinse. No need for very hot water – it doesn’t kill more germs, and you’re more likely to wash longer if the water temperature is comfortable. Drying hands with a paper towel instead of a hand towel will further prevent germs from getting back on your hands. When you’re far from a sink, hand sanitizer is a good substitute. But choose one that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, suggests Gerba, to make sure it kills germs and viruses.
2. Where do most germs lurk in your kitchen?
“Ninety percent of kitchen sinks harbor salmonella, as well as plenty of other germs that can make you very sick,” says Gerba. Wipe down your sink at least weekly with a product labeled “disinfecting” or “sanitizing” – it’s the only kind that’s been tested to kill germs. If anyone in your house is sick, clean the sink once a day. The kitchen sponge is another germ hot spot. “Disinfect it every time you use it to wipe up residue from meat, poultry or vegetables,” advises Gerba. The best methods: Microwave a damp sponge for two minutes (be careful when removing it) or run it through the dishwasher. Replace old sponges every two weeks.
3. When a family member is sick, what are the best measures you can take to protect yourself?
a. Don’t share the same tube of toothpaste
b. Wear an anti-germ mask
c. Don’t come within 3 feet
Answer: a. and c.
When applying toothpaste, people tend to touch theirs to the opening of the tube, which can pass along germs. Aside from using a separate tube of toothpaste, move all toothbrushes away from the ill person’s. After the person gets better, buy every family member a new toothbrush. In addition, try to stay at least 3 feet away from anyone who’s sick. Gravity prevents germy droplets from coughs and sneezes from traveling further. This is also a good rule to use elsewhere, especially on public transportation. Finally, be sure to disinfect all objects and surfaces the sick person touches.
4. How can you avoid germs in the bathroom — both at home and in public?
a. Put the lid down before flushing
b. Turn off the sink faucet with a towel
c. Don’t touch anything
“Don’t forget to lower the toilet lid or you risk getting a volcano of germs right in your face,” says Gerba. No lid? Turn your back as soon as you flush and get out of the booth as soon as possible.
5. What’s the germiest spot at your office?
a. The office copier
b. The elevator button
c. Your desk
The other two aren’t far behind. And germs that you pick up at work come home with you at the end of the day. Gerba suggests pressing the elevator button with a gloved finger or your keys (that goes for the one in your apartment building too). Be sure to squirt on some hand sanitizer after using the office copier, coffeepot, microwave, refrigerator and watercooler. And don’t forget to disinfect your desk (chances are the cleaning staff doesn’t do it): Your phone, computer keyboard and desktop all harbor more harmful germs than the average toilet seat. Wipe them down with a disinfecting product at the end of each day.