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Last updated May 22, 2017, originally published September 22, 2016
By Susan Callahan, Contributing Columnist
The year is and the world sits on the verge of a new
golden dawn in human history, following the discover of
penicillin by Scottish scientists Paul Ehrlich and Alexander
Fleming in 1921. So began what scientists now call the
"Age of Antibiotics", marking the triumph of science over
the cruel diseases caused by bacteria. From that year
forward, the humankind anticipated that the incidence of
disease would decline over time until one day we reached
a state of almost disease-free health.
Or so we thought. What actually happened was the
opposite. The death rate from infectious diseases has
climbed sharply upward, increasing by 58% for just the 12
-year period from 1980 to 1992, making it the third
leading cause of death by 1992 and that trend continues
Puzzled by the persistence of bacterial diseases despite the
discovery of antibiotics, scientists have tried to find out
what happened. Is the rise caused by newer diseases --
yes, some of it -- or by mutating bacteria and viruses,
again, yes, some of it.
But the real answer may be even simpler. We are being
infected each and every day by things we touch or
otherwise come into contact with.
Scientists now have identified the likeliest culprits for the
never-ending pool of germs that continue to sicken us.
Here are the Top 7:
1. Dollar Bills and Other Paper Money Are Dirtier Than a
The Federal government prints over 35 billion one dollar
bills each year, designed to last about 18 months. By the
time they go out of circulation, each dollar bill will have
been handled literally by thousands or even tens of
thousands of hands, some clean, but many of them dirty.
In 2002, scientists led by Dr. Theodore W. Capt Pope and
Peter Enders sought to identify just how dirty money
really is. They gathered one dollar bills from the checkout
line at a local grocery store and the line to a concession
stand at a local high school during a basketball game.
After soaking the bills in a solution, they identified the
number of bacterial pathogens the bills contained.
What they discovered may shock or even sicken you. Over
94% of all dollar bills contain bacterial pathogens including
fecal matter. Germs identified on the dollar bills included
these nasty hitchhikers:
2. Door Handles Can Make You Sick or Even Kill You
Scientists in 2014 placed a traceable virus on a single door
handle in an office. Within 24 hours, 60% of all the people
who worked in that office had picked up the virus on their
This study, presented at the 54th Interscience Conference
on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC),
advised people to use an anti-microbial wipe and gto wash
their hands frequently to cut down on the spread of virus.
How important is this?
Well, norovirus is one of the most common viruses spread
by contact. Norovirus is responsible for between 19 to 21
million illnesses. The virus causes between 56,000 to
71,000 hospitalizations and up to 800 deaths each year,
says the study's author, Dr. Charles Gerba of the
University of Arizona.
3. Elevator Buttons Have 40 Times More Germs Than a
Various studies, including a 2010 study from the University
of Arizona on behalf of the Microban Europe corporation,
have found that the number of germs on a typical elevator
button is 40 times higher than the number found on a
Elevator buttons average 313 colony forming units (CFUs)
per square centimeter. This compares to 8 colony forming
units found per average on a public toilet seat.
The bacteria commonly found on elevator buttons include
fecal matter ( E. coli), Staphylococcus aureus and
methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
You might recognize MRSA as the infection-causing
pathogen in hospitals. MRSA infections spread easily in
hospitals and one reason may in fact be elevator buttons.
A 2014 study from Toronto discovered that 61% of
elevator buttons in hospitals have germ-spreading
colonies, compared to 41% found on toilet seats. The
study's lead researcher, Dr. Donald Redelmeier of
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre strongly advised
medical staff to use their elbows instead of their hands
when pressing elevator buttons, use a pen to press the
button or simply ask someone else to press the button.
Remember when elevators had white-gloved doormen to
open them and press the button for your floor? Maybe it's
time to start giving somebody that job again. It could save
all of us from needless diseases and infections.
4. Hands Are The Most Common Carriers of Infection
Confirming again what the scientists in Toronto found, the
Centers of Disease Control reports that simply washing
your hands can "prevent about 30% of diarrhea-related
sicknesses and about 20% of respiratory infections".
Wrap your mind around that for a moment. The simple act
of washing your hands with warm water and soap can
protect you from many forms of contagions.
All of the contact points for germs that we have discussed
--dollar bills, elevator buttons, door handles ---all depend
on the common carrier of human hands to give them a
piggyback ride to their next victim. In the world of germs,
hands are a superhighway.
At any point, you can break the chain of germ transmission
by just washing your hands thoroughly. You can send
germs to the next highway exit.
5. Cell Phones and Computer Keyboards Are Germ Havens
In a 2012 study, Dr. Gerba of the University of Arizona
discovered that a cell phone can have up to 10 times more
germs that cause sickness than a toilet seat.
Even though mobile phones are electric, they should be
wiped regularly to clean them. Iphones should not be
cleaned with alcoholic wipes, Apple cautions.
In general, Apple says you should
•Use only a soft, lint-free cloth. Avoid abrasive cloths,
towels, paper towels, and similar items that might cause
•Unplug all external power sources, devices, and cables.
•Keep liquids away from the product.
•Not get moisture into any openings.
•Not use aerosol sprays, solvents, or abrasives.
•Not spray cleaners directly onto the item
6. ATM Screens and Buttons Actually Can Make You Sick
From around the world have come studies that have found
that ATM machines simply are dirty and can be a threat to
In 2012, a team of scientists from Turkey studies the
germs present on ATM machines in a medium sized city
500,000 people. The study, from Inonu University Medical
School, in Malatya,Turkey found the following bacteria
present: Coagulase-negative staphylococci, Bacillus, E.
Coli, staphylococcus aureus and MRSA.
As the scientists noted: "Hundreds of people
whose socio-economic levels and hygienic status are
quite different with each other use ATMs daily.
Customers contact with their hand the surfaces of keypad
and/or screen of these devices."
7. Light Switches, Especially in Bathrooms, Are Filthy
Most people clean their bathrooms thoroughly never stop
to notice one of the filthiest surfaces in that room -- the
light switch. Even if you wash your hands until they are
raw, if you turn off the light with that same hand as you
leave the bathroom, you've just re-contaminated yourself.
The solution is to take a paper cloth after you wash your
hands and use that paper cloth to both turn off the light
and turn the door handle as you leave. Then toss the
paper into a waste can.
8. Your Smartphone Becomes Contaminated Very Easily
After you touch the ATM screen, the elevator buttons and
the door knobs, you often check your messages, right? If
yo don't thoroughly wash your hands after touching any
of the common sources of germs before you touch your
smartphone, then that handy device becomes the last
repositor of all the germs at the bottom of the swirl of
germs in your day.
In a way, that smartphone screen is the garbage dump for
all the day's germs. Then, if you don't sanitize the screen
before you swipe right next time, you will add the next
day's collection of germs to the endless pile of germs
growing on your smartphone.
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|Paper money has more germs on average than a
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