How many times a month do you visit a gas station? On average, most Americans fill up their gas tank once a week and many more do so at least twice a month. Filling up our gas is kind of like a habit, we pull in, unlatch our tanks, swipe our credit card, select our gas, lift the handle and fill up the tank.
Depending on how much gas we put in our tank, we can be in and out in as little as 5 minutes. However, 5 minutes is more than long enough to pick up nasty cold or flu germs from the pump handle.
According to microbiologists at Nova Southeastern University, we are covered in bacteria. In fact, there are 10 bacteria living on us for every one cell we have. Considering that we have about one hundred trillion cells, that is a lot of bacteria. Some of those bacteria are in us and some are on us, some are good and some are bad. The things that we do daily or weekly, like pumping gas, spread bacteria all over the place.
According to a team of hygienists from Kimberly Clark who swabbed hundreds of different surfaces in six US cities to see where germs were breeding, gas pump handles turned out to be the worst offenders, followed by public mailboxes, escalators, ATM machines, parking meters and crosswalk buttons.
The level of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) found on gas pump handles was high enough to trigger disease transmission. A level of 300 or higher indicates the presence of contamination. All surfaces listed above received a rating over 300, with gas pump handles having the highest. Yuck!
Professor of microbiology at University of Arizona, Charles Gerba, PhD, says, “People do not realize the amount of contamination they are exposed to going to work each day and doing everyday things like filling their gas tank or riding on an escalator,” Gerba says that the results of the study really stress the importance of hand and surface hygiene.
According to study leaders, a virus can be transfered up to 6 times.
Think of all of the things you touch in a given day – especially those surfaces that others touch around your home and office. You may share a coffee pot, microwave, fridge, copy machine, fax machine, vending machine or more, with any number of people – each who carry around germs that they have picked up from various surfaces that are not disinfected on a daily basis.
The good news is that by following a few basic hygiene principles, you can do much to keep germs from spreading. When you visit the gas pump:
Don’t Wipe Your Hands on Your Face: Be very careful not to touch any part of your face with your hands during or after pumping your gas. According to researchers at California Berkley, most people touch their face on average about 16 times in an hour. Touching a contaminated surface and then wiping our face allows germs to enter your eyes, nose or mouth.
Don’t Talk on the Phone: How many times do you pump gas and talk on the phone? Americans are no strangers to multitasking, however, talking on the phone after you have touched the gas pump handle allows germs to be transferred to your phone where they can stay alive for a very long time, unless you disinfect your phone. In fact, according to microbiologists, bacteria responsible for the stomach flu can live anywhere from a few days to a few weeks on a surface.
Don’t Touch Anyone Else: Before you get a chance to disinfect your hands, don’t touch anyone else after pumping gas, especially children. It may seem innocent enough, you finish pumping gas and reach back to hand something to one of your children.
Once your hand, that has been in contact with the gas pump, comes in contact with your child’s hand, the germs are on the move. As far as putting their hands in their mouth, kids are notorious offenders.
What to Do
Of course, the best line of defense against germs is to wash your hands really well and often. However, since it may not be feasible to wash your hands all the time immediately after pumping gas, there are a few defensive moves you can employ until you can get to a sink, some soap and warm water.
Firstly, always carry a container of disinfectant wipes with you and before you pick up the gas pump handle, do your best to wipe it down. You can even hold the handle with the wipe as opposed to actually touching it. You should keep this move in mind wherever you are, especially during cold and flu season.
Although some people may shoot you a sideways glance, there is no shame in wiping down the ATM machine, the grocery cart handle, the elevator buttons or even the gas pump before touching.
After you have finished pumping your gas, cover your hands well in antibacterial gel. Keep a small container with you at all times. As soon as you have the opportunity, wash your hands with soap and warm water.
The Kimberly Clark Healthy Workplace Project was started to help educate people about how easy it is to spread germs in the workplace. The study urges people to wash, wipe and sanitize to help prevent the spread of germs.
Washing hands regularly can eliminate the spread of germs by up to 77 percent; wiping ‘hot spot’ surfaces such as doorknobs, gas pumps, keyboards and phones can also kill lurking germs before you touch the surface. In addition, using hand sanitizer has been shown to reduce sick time by 21 percent.
For the small amount of time and energy it takes, the effort to protect yourself and others is well worth it.
-The Alternative Daily