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The 5 germiest things in public you shouldn't touch with bare hands

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By Karen B. Gibbs, TODAY

(NBC News) - If you were an expert on germs, which five public places would you never want your hands to touch? We asked Dr. Charles Gerba, aka “Dr. Germ,” University of Arizona microbiologist, that question and, as always, he had ready answers, peppered with good-natured humor. Drum roll, please.

1. Touch-screens at self-check-outs - A surprising 50% of these touch-screens, which can be found everywhere from grocery stores to pharmacies, had fecal bacteria. “Must have something to do with changing baby diapers,” he laughs. Surprisingly, he found MRSA here, too. “There are actually more antibiotic-resistant bacteria on these screens than in a hospital.”

Solution: Either avoid them or make sure to use hand sanitizer after you finish checking out.

2. The first-floor elevator button Think about it, says Dr. Gerba. Everyone who goes up in an elevator has to come down to the first floor. Parainfluenza, a virus that causes cold-like symptoms, is the nasty lurking germ he found here.

Solution: Press the elevator buttons with either your knuckle or your elbow. You’re not as likely to touch your face with either of these. When you get back to the office or to your house, wash your hands right away.

3. The pull-down tray on an airplane - “We’ve found traces of influenza, norovirus and MRSA on airplane trays,” says Dr. Gerba. Surprised? Germs like norovirus can survive here for a few weeks. “When do they ever clean these things? They hardly have time between flights,” he adds.

Solution: Don’t use the tray. If you must, wipe the tray with sanitizing wipes before using it. If you have none with you, make sure to use hand sanitizer immediately after using the tray. Also, until you use hand sanitizer, avoid touching your face as this is how these germs make it into your system.

4. Coffee pot handle in the break room - 50% of the coffee pot handles had coliform bacteria, which in an indicator of fecal contamination. They also had parainfluenza! Think about it, says Gerba, where’s the first place people go when they get to the office? To get a cup of coffee. Whatever their hands touched on the way to work gets deposited on the coffee handle.

Solution: Yet another great reason to wash your hands. Keep hand sanitizer in the break room and use it after handling the coffee pot. This simple step breaks the cycle of germ movement and can significantly reduce the spread of germs.

5. The restroom faucet handle  - This one’s a no-brainer, according to Gerba. You turn on the tap when your hands are dirty and turn off the same contaminated tap after your hands are clean. That means when you leave the bathroom, your hands are still dirty — and germy! E. coli and Salmonella are likely multiplying on your fingers!

Solution: After washing your hands, if there is no dispenser, use a paper towel or some toilet paper to turn off the tap. If the bathroom has a hand sanitizer dispenser, don't hesitate to use it on the way out.

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