Bacteria, viruses and parasites surround us. They're a big deal. Diseases from these microscopic organisms are a leading cause of illness and death around the world, including the United States.
You could wind up in this unfortunate bunch if you let microbes take a trip into your body through any of its various openings (or through animal or insect bites).
But if you stop doing things that make you more vulnerable, you'll reduce your chance of getting sick or worse. Here are a few bad habits and how to change them:
1. You wear outdoor shoes inside your home
This one is painfully obvious, but people trek inside with their outdoor shoes – All. The. Time. Almost every disgusting thing you can think of has been on the ground outside: bird poop, dog poop, engine oil, chemicals. To spare you nausea, I won't carry on.
Solution: Take your shoes off before you enter your home then place them on a shoe tray or leave them outside. To be sure, step inside once you remove your shoes—not on the nasty doormat or foul floor outside. Seems simple, but I can't tell you how many people screw up this simple task, tromping their clean feet all over the germ-laden surface where they just removed their shoes. When you exit your home, follow the pattern in reverse, which is to say: Your clean feet/socks touch only clean surfaces, and your dirty shoes touch only dirty surfaces.
2. You place your purse/backpack/briefcase on the ground... in restaurants, on planes and in other public spaces
I won't explain this one because it too is disturbingly obvious. See #1.
Solution: If you must set your bag below, put a piece of paper, paper towel or the like under it (and then pick up the protectant afterward by touching only its clean side in order to place it in the appropriate disposal receptacle). Otherwise, find a place to hang your bag or shove it next to you on your seat. And for the love of God, if you must place your bag directly on the ground, wipe it down with 70% isopropyl alcohol before you place it on your lap, desk, car seat or any surface in your home.
3. You pump gas... then carry on with your day
This should be obvious too. But I'll drill it home with tests completed by Kimberly-Clark Professional, the company that gives us soap dispensers for the workplace. Swabs their team took in six major U.S. cities showed that 71 percent of gas-pump handles they sampled had high levels of contamination.
Solution: Clean your hands with disinfecting wipes or your own solution (fill a small bottle with 70% isopropyl alcohol and witch hazel, and keep it in your cup holder). Keep paper towels in your car. After you pump gas, grab a paper towel and use its clean side to retrieve your solution or the wipes.
4. You bite your nails or cuticles
Good luck if you pump gas, and then stick your fingers in your mouth. It doesn't take quite that much to sully your mitts though. So if you put your digits in your maw, and your hands or nails aren't clean, you're on a germ adventure.
Solution: You probably already know it would be great to stop nibbling at your fingers. But if you can't stop, make sure your digits are spic 'n span, with proper hand-washing. Then use a small brush dipped in alcohol (a toothbrush works) to dislodge grime under your nails, and wash your hands again.
5. Your dog (or cat) licks your face
A dog's tongue is not clean. To wit: They enjoy eating poop. You might be fine after kissing your furry friend, but if you get sick, it'll probably be with a gastrointestinal illness from a zoonotic disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Solution: Keep your face away from your animal. Also, wash your hands after petting a cat or dog; zoonotic illnesses transfer through direct contact with animals.
6. You never clean your cell phone.
Ten times more bacteria lurk on cell phones than most toilet seats, according to University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba. That's because phones are constantly in dirty hands and on dirty surfaces. A 2017 study also found significant levels of bacterial contamination on high school students' phones.
Solution: Wipe your phone's face with cloth doused in vinegar, and clean the rest of your phone with a cloth doused in 70% isopropyl alcohol. You should also clean your headset's wire, which is pretty easy to do with soap and running water, save the microphone. And if you take your phone into the bathroom, treat it like your hands: Clean it.
Learn more about journalist and wellness writer Mitra Malek at mitramalek.com.