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UC Irvine Medical Center

Hand hygiene can minimize effect of daily germ exposure


Gas pumps, buttons on ATM and vending machines, escalator rails, mailbox handles and parking meters are among the dirtiest, most germ-covered surfaces people are likely to encounter each day, according a new study conducted by Kimberly Clark, the company that produces Kleenex and Huggies diapers.

However, following basic hygiene practices are usually enough to keep germs at bay, says Linda Dickey, a nurse and director of infection control at UC Irvine Medical Center.

“Frequent hand washing, covering up when you cough or sneeze and keeping cuts or wounds clean are still the best ways to keep from picking up or spreading germs,” Dickey says. “Think of it this way, if everything that had germs on it made us sick each time we touched them, we’d be sick all the time.”

She said our bodies and immune systems are built to minimize our exposure to infection.

“A lot has to happen in the correct order for a person to get sick,” Dickey says. “For example, even if I have a cold and sneeze in my hand, then immediately shake your hand and then you put your hand to your nose or mouth, the organism may not get to the right spot to cause an infection.”

Washing your hands several times a day is an effective way to disrupt this chain of events, she says.

According to KNX 1070, teams of trained hygienists fanned out across Los Angeles and five other cities swabbing samples from a variety of common objects. The study was designed with a microbiologist from the University of Arizona.

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IN THE NEWS: Linda Dickey discusses germs in KNBC interview.