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Mall Madness: Germs Edition

Everyone knows that trying to make it through the mall during the holidays is not an easy task. With all of the chaos and crowds the mall can also be a breeding ground for germs and bacteria. Here are the most germ-infested areas of the mall to avoid this holiday season.

Handrails

Escalator handrails collect a lot of germs throughout the day. Everyone uses them, and deposits any germs they have on their hands. In the course of a day, the handrails can collect cold and flu viruses, respiratory flora from coughing, and even urine and mucus. To protect yourself, avoid the handrails when riding the escalator. If you have to use them to stable yourself, apply hand sanitizer when you step off.

Bathrooms

The dirtiest place in the mall is the bathroom sinks. Bacteria fester on the faucet and handles because people touch them right after using the toilet. The sink is also a moist environment, which allows bacteria to survive longer. Soap dispensers also harbor these dangerous germs. To protect yourself, wash your hands thoroughly. Lather them with soap for twenty seconds and rinse well. Use a paper towel to turn on the faucet and open the door.  If there are no soap or paper towels, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after you leave the bathroom.

Water Fountains

Public water fountains are covered with a surprising amount of bacteria, including rotavirus, a leading cause of diarrhea. In fact, in several tests done around the country, water fountains were found to have more bacterial cells per square inch than toilets. The good news is, when the water itself was tested, it was found to be mostly free of bacteria. Be sure to let the water run before drinking, and wash your hands before and after touching the fountain.  

Toy Stores

Toy stores have more germs than play areas, the carousel, and other kid-friendly zones at the mall. When kids are playing in the toy store, they lick toys, roll them around on their head, and rub them on their faces, depositing their germs. Since parents don't always buy the toys their kids were playing with, these germ-laden toys end up back on the shelves, waiting for you or your child to pick them up. Use a hand-sanitizer after visiting the toy store to protect yourself. Wipe down any toys you buy for the kids with soap and water, alcohol, or vinegar before giving it to them.

Food Court Tables

Even if the tables at the food court are wiped down, it doesn't guarantee they're clean. The rags themselves can actually carry bacteria and transfer them to the tables. Keep a stack of sanitizing wipes in your purse, and wipe your table down before you sit and eat. Look for ones that contain alcohol or other disinfecting agent.

ATM Keypads

Each key of the ATM keypad can contain an average of 1,200 germs, including the flu and cold viruses. The "enter" key is the most dangerous because everyone using the machine touches it. Use your knuckles instead of your fingertips at the ATM and use a hand sanitizer when you're done.

Take measures to protect yourself from the germs at the mall so you don't bring home more than your purchases. If you do get sick, visit your doctor or an urgent care facility.

Jacob Anderson is a freelance journalist from Scottsdale, Arizona who writes for a variety of health and wellness blogs and periodicals.