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8 Ineffective Ways to Avoid Germs

When cold and flu season starts, people start acting irrationally out of fear of contracting a virus. People think of all kinds of ways to avoid pathogens. Catching a cold is unpleasant but it's no reason to start adopting behaviors that lack a genuine scientific basis.

1. Wearing Gloves

Many people who use public transport or shared bathrooms think that wearing gloves will protect your skin from direct contact with germs. Avoiding heavily used surfaces is a temporary solution. While most bacteria have a more favorable chances of surviving on human skin, a lot of bacteria fare equally well on metal, or fabric. This method also requires diligence as you have to be careful not to touch the area of the glove that came into contact with the bacteria and remove the gloves gingerly. 

2. Surgical masks

This seems like an extreme step and is probably highly regarded due to medical professions use of them. Masks can reduce germs from being spread, but do practically nothing for intake of germs as they are not 100% airtight and do not seal out all germs. Surgical masks are effective in promoting public health if worn by those who are already ill as they kindly warn others to keep their distance.  

3. Paper towels as temporary gloves

This seems like a smart move: in the short term you avoid direct contact with surface germs. However, this method is mostly wasteful of paper towels. The problem is that you’re very likely to come into contact with the germs when you scrunch up the paper and throw it out. On top of this the towel might be more absorbent of germs than your skin. Much like wearing gloves, for this method to work, you have to employ sterile techniques that allow you to not come into contact with the germs.

4. Holding your breath when someone sneezes or coughs

This is another myth that somehow became respected. The problem is that when someone coughs or sneezes, it is too late and the fast traveling pathogens are already released into the air. The other reason this doesn’t do any good is because people forget that you don’t have to inhale a virus to be infected by it. The most this method does reduce the exposure to the pathogens directly in front of you. The only real way to avoid exposure is to not breath, and that isn’t an option. 

5. Using the back of your hand instead of your palm

The idea behind this behavior is less exposure to germs as less skin surface is being exposed. And while there is some truth to this idea as not all skin surfaces are equal, when it comes to bacterial transmission, it’s not very practical for everyday life, when you might need to hold or maneuver an object. Furthermore, the difference when it comes to infectious disease is negligible.

An interesting fact is that a fist pump might be a more effective greeting. A study by medical researchers at West Virginia University shows that this form of contact greeting does result in fewer bacteria being spread. 

6. Overusing hand sanitizers

Some times excessive removal of germs is actually to your detriment. Your skin has its own bacteria which work at combating invasive bacteria, and when you remove all bacteria you make yourself more vulnerable to infection and prevent the body from naturally fighting disease. Some antibacterial soap breeds antibiotic resistant superbacteria and hand washing can be damaging to the skin, so hand sanitizer can be very useful. However, it is important to know that alcohol-based sanitizers are only as effective as soap and water, not more.

An epidemiologist at New York University, Dr. Martin Blaser, shares that instead of trying to kill bacteria, we should be focusing on enriching our environment with more probiotics. Luckily he says that there is a lot of research going into the biology of built environment, with these considerations affecting planning of buildings and cities.

7. Hovering over the toilet seat

Recent research suggests squatting is linked to increased longevity; however this doesn’t help your buttocks from being exposed to germs. The problem with toilets is when you flush all the contents become aerosolized so the chances are that the previous person who used the stall has left germs hovering in the air around you. The best advice to minimize this is to put the lid down before flushing. However, your overall chances of catching an illness from the toilet seat are miniscule. 

8. Pushing the flush lever with other parts of your body

This one requires some dexterity: to avoid direct hand contact with the flush some people take to using their feet or elbows, and some public bathrooms even have automatic movement sensory flush systems. However, despite this creative thinking, when you try this one you still have to contend with aerosolized germs from the previous toilet user. This behavior also causes other problems as you are exposed to the germs when you take off your shoes and you spread germs wherever you walk. Mostly this action is unnecessary because after using the toilet you’re going to wash your hands anyway. 

How to really protect your immune system

You shouldn’t live in fear of high traffic surfaces, as little risk of catching an infection exists. Medical advice is to safeguard yourself during flu and cold season when the risk is actually real. It’s important to remember that the likelihood of catching a disease is not the mere presence of bacteria or viruses. Many people favor getting the flu shot annually. Outside of flu season there is little use in being reliant on hand sanitizers.

What you must do is always wash your hands before handling food and rinse your hands after going to the bathroom. These golden rules apply all year round.  It also helps to avoid people who are sick and to not smoke as this lowers your immune system's effectiveness. Other general tips include not biting your nails or touching your face as these are the main entry points for germs.  Other things you can do to support an effective immune system are habits that are oldies, but goodies: maintain a healthy diet, exercise and get a good night’s sleep. 

H/T: www.citylab.com
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