Top 5 Shockingly Filthy Public Places

It’s all in the hands. Your first point of contact on any surface is usually your fingers, and they expose you to germs 86% of the time. So if you first touch a dirty surface and next rub your eyes or touch your mouth, those germs are likely to enter your body.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you will automatically get sick. If you have a good immune system, are careful with personal hygiene, and those germs are not super-infectious, you’ll probably be fine.

The key to staying healthy is learning where germs thrive and taking the right steps to protect yourself.

Here are five places where germs lurk that might surprise you:

1.  Supermarkets

Maybe it’s not so surprising that shopping cart handles might harbor germs. If you think about it, customers can sneeze, blow their noses, then grab on to those handles. And just think about how many shoppers are using those carts every day!

More serious are the results from a study conducted by the University of Arizona, where researchers swabbed shopping carts. They examined 85 carts, and 72 percent of them had a marker for fecal bacteria, while on closer examination they found E.coli on 50 percent of them.

Then there are the instances of leaky packages of poultry, meat and fish, which can cause salmonella.

Solutions: Be sure to wash fresh produce before consumption, and use disinfecting hand wipes on handlebars.

2. Libraries

Maybe you think of your local library as a haven of cleanliness, but think again.

The filthiest areas are countertops and surfaces, according to Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a University of Arizona microbiologist who spends a lot of time studying germs in public places. That’s because of the number of people who spend time logged on to computers and touching those countertops.

All those visitors move through and peruse books, log on to computers and touch countertops.

Solution: Wash your hands before and after looking through those books or using the computers. Or you can carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you at all times.

3. Schools

This one is especially for teachers. After more than 20 years of experience, I’ve learned the hard way, usually by getting sick at just this time of year. The reason? Students come into our classrooms with their colds, coughs, and worse, even though parents are repeatedly asked not to send their youngsters to school if they are sick.

There are lots of good reasons: maybe both parents are working and can’t afford to take time off, or there’s no babysitter available at short notice.

Solution: don’t take papers directly from students. Have your kids place their work at the other end of your desk, and be sure to use the hand sanitizer before and after picking up those assignments. Or have them submit everything electronically.

4.  Kids’ Playgrounds

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tell all parents: An Ounce of Prevention Keeps the Germs Away. This is especially true on playgrounds, where all those teeter totters, jungle gyms, and swings may be full of germs. And naturally children touch everything.

Add to that the possibility of fecal bacteria from pooping birds and toddlers in diapers, and your children could pick up lots of germs.

Solution: Once again, good personal hygiene is in order. The CDC recommends that you and your kids do a thorough hand wash immediately upon returning from the play area, or use that hand sanitizer.

5.  Offices

From Lifescript:

In a study of 113 work surfaces in offices in five of the nation’s big cities, (University of Arizona microbiologist) Gerba found more than 25,000 bacteria hitching a ride on telephones. Desks and computer keyboards followed close behind.

In fact, your desk has 400 times more germs than a toilet seat, Gerba says. Why?

People don’t disinfect surfaces in offices, he says.

Another danger zone: inside desk drawers, where workers stash food.

Solution: Be sure to clean your desk, phone and keyboard daily with anti-bacterial wipes.

As always, the key to good health is balance. You can work to prevent illnesses by getting the proper amount of sleep, having a healthy diet and keeping stress to a minimum. But do keep the hand sanitizer close by!

Care2 Related Coverage

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Can Early Exposure To Bacteria Lower Allergy Risk?


Photo Credit: thinkstock


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

none of this was shocking to me

Christine Jones
Christine J4 years ago

There is a strong movement in offices now for workers not to have their own workstations, but to be "mobile" and work anywhere, swapping desks, working in the cafeteria, etc. The latest crop of management gurus says this will improve productivity. The first thing I thought of was that I would not like to sit at anyone else's desk, let alone use their phone and keyboard. I clean my work area weekly, and don't keep food in my desk, but I am alone in this. I must add that of course the managers still get to keep their own swanky big offices, so apparently the productivity increase only works on those on the lower rungs. What a surprise.

Alicia Guevara
Alicia Guevara4 years ago

Very important to wash hands frecuently! Good info. Tks.

Arild Warud

Check your computer keyboard.

jenny H.
jenny H5 years ago

I always feel dirty after a visit to the supermarket or library! Thank you, this is thought-provoking...I'm now off to buy some hand sanitizer!

Amber Grisetti
Amber Laverack5 years ago

Good that you've flagged up these places, but antibiotics are severely overused.

Lynn D.
Lynn D5 years ago


Jessica Larsen
Janne O5 years ago

"How important do you consider it to wash your hands frequently?
no! leaning no leaning yes yes!"

Another topic where the poll question is poorly thought out in terms of possible replies.

"Maybe you think of your local library as a haven of cleanliness, but think again.
The filthiest areas are countertops and surfaces"

Really? Have you seen some of the books? Yikes!

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim5 years ago

It's normal that public places where there's a lot of people have a lot of germs. We generally don't die from it, but some people who are immunodeficient can be seriously affected by some of the bacteria or virus from others.

Sherrie Brunell
Sherrie Brunell5 years ago


This doesn't mean we should be exposing our children to horrible pathogens, but maybe it's not so bad if they play in the mud and get dirty. Of course, we should keep our children, our homes, and ourselves clean, but this obsession with anti-bacterial soaps and anti-bacterial wipes is starting to come back to harm us, not only with auto-immune diseases but by allowing antibiotic resistant bacteria, such as MRSA, to develop.