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4 Things We Do That Do Not Help Protect From Germs

New studies are always being published that warn of the dangerous germs lurking in public places. So, most of us become a little more careful about handling doorknobs and shopping carts, or make more of an effort to flush a public toilet with our foot. Are these habits helping us steer clear of germs?

Philip Tierno, Ph.d., a professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU School of Medicine, explains that these things may not matter much. Here are some explanations.

1. Flushing with your foot.

Flushing with your foot does help avoid contact with the toilet handle, but until you can open the stall and then the outer door with your foot, you might not be avoiding most of the germs. For best results, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for a full 20 seconds and use a paper towel or your elbow to open the outer door.

2. Holding your breath when someone sneezes.

When someone near you sneezes, small droplets are released into the air. Holding your breath will only help for a second, and Tierno explains, “Unless you can hold your breath for a really long time, this isn’t going to help.” Moving away can help, if you can do so casually, since the droplets typically cannot travel more than 5 feet.

3. Wiping a shared drink.

This may help a little, says Tierno, since “it is somewhat helpful, since you’re cutting down on some of the salivary secretions, but there’s nothing foolproof here.” Even the best wiping is unlikely to remove serious germs, like strep or the stomach flu. If someone asks for a sip of your drink, it’s best to politely deny, even if you have to lie and say you have a cold.

4. Using gloves at the ATM.

Although using gloves will keep the germs off of your fingers, they will not keep them off of the gloves. Since you are using your fingers to remove the gloves, or even potentially touching your face with the gloves, you are going to come into contact with the germs you are trying to avoid. Fortunately, most cold germs cannot survive outside of the body for more than a day, so if you lay your gloves out to dry thoroughly then you will probably avoid carrying the bacteria around with you for a while.

If you want the best protection from germs, make it a habit to thoroughly wash your hands on a regular basis, use hand sanitizer, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Keeping away from those who are visibly sick can also help.