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Shopping malls a holiday hot spot for germs

Sunday - 11/20/2011, 10:22am  ET

Dyandra Morris, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON - With all the holiday shopping coming up...'tis the season to be germy.

Whether prepping for Black Friday or doing some last-minute scrambling on Dec. 24, shoppers are putting themselves at risk for germs lurking in malls -- even those that can lead to E. coli, the flu and staph infections.

Health Magazine "asked a panel of experts to rank the worst germ hot spots at your local shopping center."

Coming out with the top spot? The restroom sink.

"Bacteria, including E. coli, fester on the faucet and handles because people touch those surfaces right after using the toilet," panelist Dr. Charles Gerba says in the report.

Gerba's team also found that one in four refillable soap dispensers "contained unsafe levels of bacteria."

Where are the germiest spots?

  1. Restroom sinks
  2. Food court tables -- The cleaning rags used on the tables can spread bacteria.
  3. Escalator handrails -- People cough and sneeze and then use the escalators. Avoid using them.
  4. ATM keypads -- Cold and flu viruses end up on the keys, especially the ENTER key. Use your knuckles, not your fingertips.
  5. Toy stores - Kids touch and lick everything. Does anything more need to be said?
  6. Fitting rooms -- Not the rooms, it's the clothes you try on that accumulate skin cells and perspiration. Ladies, it's best not to wear thongs here.
  7. Gadget shops -- Everybody is playing with this stuff.
  8. Makeup samples -- Avoid these. People don't always wash their hands. Ask for single samples, or try the same on the back of your hand.

"Anywhere people gather is filled with bacteria and viruses, and a crowded shopping mall is a perfect example," Dr. Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center, tells Health.

Advice: Carry disinfecting wipes while shopping.

Check out all the details here.

WTOP's Max Smith contributed to this report. Follow Max and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)