When my son was about 7 months old, we made our first grocery store run with him sitting in the front compartment of the cart instead of lying down in his car seat. He seemed thrilled to have graduated to this upright view. But when I stopped to bag some apples, I watched in horror as he leaned forward and wrapped his little pink gums around the cart's handle, which had no doubt been touched by countless germy hands. The next day I bought a protective wrap for grocery cart handles and never again went to the store without it.
Did I overreact?
No, says Charles Gerba, PhD, professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona, in Tucson. "Studies have shown that shopping cart handles are high in both bodily fluids and bacteria because they are high-touch areas that are exposed to lots of small kids." Some grocery store chains now offer disinfecting wipes near the cart storage area.The Dirty Truth!
The two major varieties of germs are bacteria and viruses. Both can cause mild and severe illnesses. The former includes strep throat, a bacterial infection, and the common cold, which is brought on by viruses. Pneumonia, which can be deadly, is caused by both bacteria and viruses, although generally the bacterial form is more serious. Another lethal disease derived from bacteria is a particularly virulent strain of E. coli, O157:H7. But not all bacteria are pathogens, germs that cause disease. "Our bodies are covered in bacteria," says Elizabeth Scott, PhD, codirector of the Simmons College Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community, in Boston. "The majority help us by preventing pathogens from invading our bodies."
But most people who hear the word "germs" probably think of colds, flu, and disease, and this may be especially true if you have small kids. "Children under 3 are a germ's best friend," says Gerba, "because kids learn about the world by touching everything and then putting their fingers in their eyes, nose, and mouth -- all great ways to transmit germs. In fact, they can go back and forth touching their surroundings and their body as many as 30 different times per minute, notes Gerba. And every time you and your kids enter your house, so do the microbes you picked up in other environments -- daycare, the office, the playground, or the doctor's waiting room.