With this season's flu outbreak turning out to be one of the worst in recent history, it is absolutely vital that you know how to protect yourself and others from the virus(es.) A large part of what is making this season so critical is the vast majority of cases can be attributed to the especially nasty H3N2 strain of the virus. Another large contributing factor is incidence of the flu seems to have hit most states with force, simultaneously (instead of only a few states being hit at a time.)
At present, more than 12,000 people have been hospitalized with flu-like symptoms—more than any flu season in fifteen years (not counting the swine flu pandemic of 2009.) Unfortunately, the deaths of 37 children can also be linked to the illness, with that number expected to rise. While there are basic precautions you can take to prevent yourself from getting sick (like washing your hands or covering your coughs and sneezes) there are a number of methods of transmission you probably have not even thought about. Here are some weird ways to catch the flu that you didn’t realize:
1. A Scummy Sink
According to Dr.Charles Gerba, a microbiologist and professor at the University of Arizona, "The faucet handle is the most contaminated surface in a restroom." He suggests using a paper towel to turn a sink on and off, and even using one to open the bathroom door handle on your way out.
2. Fingers on your Face
Your eyes, nose, and mouth are particularly prone to germs, so unless your hands are completely clean and sterile at any given moment (spoiler: they're not,) try to avoid touching your face and exposing even more of your body to germs. This may sound simple, but one study found that adults touch their faces, on average, 15.7 times per hour.
3. Grimy Gym Equipment
It's a well-establismed fact that workig out is good for you and can even boost the strength of your immune system. But if you work out at a gym there is really no way of knowing if the equipment your using was wiped down by thr last person who used it (and even if it was, they may have not done a very good job.) In fact, a study conducted by fitness equipment review site Fitrated.com found that "The average exercise bike harbors 39 times more bacteria than a cafeteria tray. Typical free weights have 362 times more germs than a toilet seat. And the treadmill you’re running on averages 74 times more bacteria than a typical public bathroom faucet." The best way to combat this? Wipe down equipment before your use it, and use your own towel. Take extra care of your yoga mat, as well.
4. Begrimed Buttons
Nowadays most public places—or, at least, accessible ones with more than one floor—have an elevator. With so many people touching them (particularly the one for the main floor) the amount of germs present can quickly add up. According to one study, the typical elevator button in a hotel, office, bank, hospital or airport can hold "313 ‘colony forming units’" per square centimeter. Opt to take the stairs when possible, and when taking an elevator is unavoidable press the button with your elbow or sleeve.
5. Dodgy hand dryers
Though undoubtedly more environmentally-friendly than using excess paper towels, it turns out using hand dryers may also be far more dangerous. A 2014 study out of the University of Leeds in the U.K. found that not only was the amount of bacteria in the air around hand dryers far higher than it is on/around paper towel dispensers, the bacteria also persists in the air for a while after they are used. So while you may have the best intentions when using a hand dryer after washing your hands, you may be unknowingly attracting and spreading more germs than you had initially. Instead use a paper or otherwise disposable towel.
6. Icky Air
It has recently come out that the flu can be transmitted simply by breathing—perhaps the most difficult means of transmission to avoid. With this is mind, don't be shy about rocking a face mask in busy places like malls, school, and airports. You can find a few for free in many health clinics, and buy a box online for pretty cheap.