hand cleaning
Illustrative purposes Image Credit:

What you need to know:

  • Public places have germs and bacteria.
  • According to reports, elevator buttons, grocery trolleys, restroom handles and menu's have the highest per cent of germs.
  • On #WorldHandHygiene day, we ask UAE residents about public surfaces they avoid. 
  • Are you a germaphobe? Write to us at readers@gulfnews.com.

Dubai: Do you ever stop to think before touching an elevator button, about how it was probably touched by thousands of people before you? Or an escalator handrail at a shopping mall - it is probably teeming with bacteria.

Disgusted yet? Public places have a larger scare of germs because they are accessed by millions of people daily. Most people don’t think twice before touching such public surfaces, not to mention forget to sanitise their hands after.

On World Hand Hygiene day, May 5, the World Health Organisation discussed the importance of keeping ones hands clean with their “SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands” campaign.

We asked UAE residents about public surfaces they refuse to touch, or surely wash their hands after touching.

At public rest rooms

While most surfaces in public toilets are probably contaminated. People seem to be most cautious of these three.

Door knobs or handles

Dubai resident and Indian national Tanisha Gupta said: “A surface that I absolutely cannot touch with my bare hands is the door knob of any public toilet, nor the cubicles inside. I’ve seen people time and again use toilets and not wash their hands.”

The 33-year-old, a mother of 18-month-old twins is always equipped with plastic gloves, tissues, wet wipes and sanitizer. She said: “I arm myself with whatever I can, and so I ensure my hands never have to meet public rest room door handles ever!”

I arm myself with whatever I can, and so I ensure my hands never have to meet public rest room door handles ever!

- Tanisha Gupta

Sibu Jacob who works as a regional logistics manager in a Dubai-based company agrees. He said: “I usually avoid rest room door handles and always keep extra tissue paper from the rest room, to use when I reach the door.”

I used to feel hand hygiene was overrated but after my wife and I had a premature baby, I realised how important it is. I am quite concerned now.

- Sibu Jacob

Jacob added: “I used to feel hand hygiene was overrated but after my wife and I had a premature baby, I realised how important it is. I am quite concerned now.”

Sink taps

Like Gupta, 23-year-old Dubai resident Aroushi Malhotra also relies on her “handy” pocket sanitizer and hand wipes when outside. She told Gulf News: “I wish everything would be motion sensor based. After washing my hands in a public rest room, if my fingers accidentally touch any surface before I exit the rest room – be it the sink tap, the steel in a hand towel dispenser or the lid of a swinging waste bin – I need to start afresh by washing my hands. Trying to exit without touching anything is like a game! I sometimes even use extra tissue as a barrier between my clean hands and the ‘dirty’ surfaces!”

tap areas
Areas around the sink tend to have more germs

Trying to exit without touching anything is like a game! I sometimes even use extra tissue as a barrier between my clean hands and the ‘dirty’ surfaces!

- Aroushi Malhotra

According to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the national public health institute of the US, only 31 per cent of men and 65 per cent of women wash their hands after using the rest room.

Flush buttons

US national Carol Matta has a fear of touching flush buttons in public toilets. The UAE national said: “I think what bothers me is the thought that a person hasn’t washed their hands prior to touching it. I assume that when the toilets are cleaned, the flush button is not what one would focus on. So, it is left dirty. I use a tissue paper to press it.”

I assume that when the toilets are cleaned, the flush button is not what one would focus on. So, it is left dirty. I use a tissue paper to press it.”

- Carol Matta

Filipino expat Patrick Rodriguez Salta avoids touching flush buttons too. He uses a tissue paper to press it and always carries wipes. He added: “Hand hygiene is super-important, especially since we use our hands to eat.”

Hand hygiene is super-important, especially since we use our hands to eat.

- Patrick Rodriguez Salta

Escalator handrails

Aathif Bellikunhi avoids contact with the handrails on the escalators when visiting shopping malls. The Dubai-based financial auditor said: “Microbes are everywhere, especially in places that tend to see a lot of people daily. If you think about it, touching the handles of an escalator is equivalent to shaking hands with a lot of people. Therefore, one should directly touch such surfaces only when deemed necessary. Once touched, people should use a hand sanitizer as soon as possible to prevent the spread of germs and other bacteria.”

Airplane food trays

According to a 2018 article by US newspaper The New York Times, doctors say that in airplanes, people can get sick due to exposure from other passengers, however, the risk of these diseases spreading comes from cabins and bathrooms that are not properly cleaned.

Public places that Lebanese national Christelle Chamaa finds the “dirtiest” apart from toilet doors and airplane trays. The 33-year-old said: “I always clean the tray with a wet wipe before using it. I’ve always found food stains on them.”

I always clean the tray with a wet wipe before using it. I’ve always found food stains on them.”

- Christelle Chamaa

At restaurants and food courts

Menus

According to research, restaurant menu cards have 100 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. Disgusted? To make matters worse, in some places, menu cards are usually whipped down with a rag that may not be necessarily clean.

Indian national Surabhi Sudarshan, who is visiting the UAE, said: “At restaurants, I order first, then wash my hands before I sit down to eat.”

Her second pet-peeve is public dustbins.

Food trays and tables

Cleaning rags are reused to wipe the many tables in malls and food courts.

Armenian national Sylvie Sekian said: “With food court tables and trays, as well as with escalator handrails, I avoid touching them altogether.” The 22-year-old added: “I’m a biology major, studying courses like microbiology and how diseases could be transmitted got me to take such steps.”

Indian expat Vijoy Raman added: “I avoid touching food trays you get at food courts.” He refers to himself as “mildly germaphobic” and said: “My mother was very particular about hand hygiene when I was a child. I continued as an adult.”

Most unhygienic public surfaces that you probably touch daily:

According to a March 2019 article by a top American healthcare website, WebMD, these surface are considered to have a high concentration of germs:

Supermarkets
Supermarket trolleys are considered to have bacteria.

Touch screens

A study conducted on touch screens at 8 fast-food restaurants found faecal bacteria that cause the kinds of infections you can pick up in a hospital.

Touch screen
Screens in mall restaurants or information desks are unhygienic

Elevator buttons

If in a public place, the elevator buttons in the lifts have been pushed by thousands of people, not all of whom might be hygienic. Try and use your el boy or tissue paper.


Gym equipment

According to a study, free weights and elliptical machine handles housed species commonly found in rest rooms. If your gym offers to clean your equipment for you, let them. Or just do it yourself.


Restaurant menus

They have 100 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.

Grocery cart handles

According to the article, 11 million microorganisms, including some from raw meat could be sitting on a cart handle.

Soap dispensers

They are apparently breeding ground for bacteria.

Kitchen sponges

According to a study by Scientific Reports, an online, scientific journal published by Nature Research, kitchen sponges harbour a high bacterial diversity, so watch out for that too. Dispose off sponges at the right time.

Importance of hand hygiene

According to UAE-based doctor Nitin Verma: “Hand hygiene is extremely important. Most viral infections- coughs/colds; influenza(flu); chest infections (adenovirus) or gastroenteritis (rota virus/adenovirus) can get into hands of children/adults after going to the toilet, changing nappies or even contact with surfaces that has germs on it because someone has coughed or sneezed on them.”

Hand hygiene is extremely important. Most viral infections- coughs/colds can get into hands of children/adults after going to the toilet, changing nappies or even contact with surfaces that has germs on it...

- Nitin Verma

The paediatric specialist added: “Most childhood diseases are spread by droplet infection. Children explore the world around them with their hands a lot. They frequently put hands in their mouth, rub their eyes or nose with those hands and it becomes an easy route for the germs to enter the body.”

How to keep your hands clean

Dr Verma added: “Washing your hands with soap removes germs and there is good evidence for that. Wash your hands with water; use soap and lather for about 15-20 seconds making sure that children wash in between fingers, wrists and the nails.

Hand sanitizer is beneficial in places where there is no soap available.”

When to wash your hands

It would be practically impossible to avoid all these surfaces. So, what is the solution? Wash your hands. According to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the national public health institute of the US, people should wash their hands ...

1. Before, during, and after preparing food

2. Before eating food

3. Before and after caring for someone who is sick

4. Before and after treating a cut or wound

5. After using the toilet

6. After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet

7. After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

8. After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste

9. After handling pet food or pet treats

10. After touching garbage

Are you a germaphobe? Do you avoid certain spaces in public for hygiene reasons? Write to us at readers@gulfnews.com.