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7 things dirtier than money

Consumer Reports News: October 15, 2009 07:08 AM

Paper money is filthy. It’s teeming with germs. And, as we reported in May, scientists in Geneva have been testing how long a flu virus can live on paper money. They found that a strain of H1N1—very similar to the one causing swine flu—can live on paper money for up to 3 days. With the rate that money changes hands, paper currency has been deemed a good candidate for spreading swine flu. 

As we approach the peak flu season in the U.S., media chatter about dirty money is sure to pick up. I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of the swine flu pandemic. Keep informed about the latest trends and recommendations. But haven’t money handlers gotten enough bad press in the past year? Surely there are other things at least as dirty as money and just as capable of transmitting the swine flu virus. 

I sought the guidance of Marvin M. Lipman, MD, chief medical adviser and medical editor for Consumer Reports. Dr. Lipman is a straight shooter who speaks plain English, plus he always makes me smile. (In 1975, Barbara Walters asked him how he treats the common cold. “With utter contempt,” he told her and millions of TV viewers.)

Dr. Lipman confirmed that money is dirty and could be a potential source for swine flu. But he said plenty of other things are just as germy as the bills in our wallets and might also spread the virus. Here are seven:

1. Doctors’ neck ties. Dr. Lipman has written on the grimy subject, explaining why he wears bow ties.

2. The office candy bowl. This is safer when the candy is wrapped. But even the wrappers can spread germs if many people, searching for their favorite sweet, have touched them.

3. Library books. Here’s something else intended for many people to share. Germs lurk not just on the books, but also on the pen used to check them out. And do you know anyone who likes to lick their thumb and then use it to help turn the pages?

4. Bathroom door handles.  Many people don’t routinely wash their hands after using the facilities. So no matter how well you scrub, you can easily pick up germs on your way out. Tip: Cover the door handle with a paper towel before turning it.

5. Telephone receivers. Most of us still have to use plain old telephones at the office or in some public places. How many unwashed hands have been on the receiver or germs dispersed on the mouthpiece?

6. Grandchildren. Kids in the 4-to-12-age range are a notorious reservoir for germs. Parents tend to become immune to their children’s bugs through daily exposure. Not so for grandparents who take care of the darlings only sporadically.

7. The movies, theater, or opera. Viruses spread anywhere large groups of people are assembled in a closed space. A sporting event in the open air would be a safer choice.–Jean Pietrobono

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