Flu season: What are you touching?


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — When shopping at the grocery store, have you ever paid attention to the number of items you have touched?

According to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention, the flu virus can live on certain surfaces for up to 48 hours.

Imagine how many people visit the store in 48 hours, touching shopping carts, food and the check-out counter.

Rachel Lowe, a mother of two in Knoxville, showed WATE 6 On Your Side reporter Kirstie Crawford just how often her family comes into contact with germ-covered items while running errands.

She brought her two sons, Emmeric, 3, and Allistair, 1, along for the ride.

“I do think about (contagious germs) especially when my kids are running around and grabbing all the things. I kind of have it in the back of my mind that, ‘okay, you’re grabbing everything. We need to go home and wash hands and make sure that we’re not sharing germs with everybody if we can try to minimize it,'” Lowe said.

She said she has taught her eldest not to put things in his mouth and not to touch everything in the store, but that only goes so far.

Emmeric was very excited Wednesday and was touching almost anything in sight, but never put his hands in his mouth afterward.

She keeps her youngest in the cart because he doesn’t yet fully grasp that concept.

She said it doesn’t help when others hand her children items without her permission.

Lowe tries to wipe down the carts before she uses them, although on Wednesday only one of the three stores had the wipes easily accessible.

She usually keeps hand sanitizer on her as well.

If all else fails, Lowe said the two boys have the flu vaccine to fall back on.

“I just prefer to go ahead and do it and try to make sure that my kids are going to be as safe as I can possibly make them. I can’t control everything, so I don’t want to worry about it, but if there’s an advantage to it, I’ll take it,” Lowe said.

She said that when local school districts close due to an abundance of students and staff being sick, she tries to keep her children home.

Lowe said she couldn’t trust other families taking their kids to the store or playground on those days off, even if their kids seemed healthy.

Dr. John Adams, a system epidemiologist with Covenant Health, said that any item touched more often than others will have more germs, such as a credit card machine versus a car tire.

Something touched more often could create a greater risk of catching an infection.

“Whatever was on the fingers of the last person to touch it, that has now been put onto that surface. And now you’ve picked them up on your fingers, and if you scratch your eye, scratch your nose, eat something, potentially, what you picked up could get into you,” Adams said.

He said the germ count doesn’t matter as much as what kind of germs are on the item.

“One disease where only five cells or particles would be enough to cause disease, there might be another one that would take 100,” Adams said.

He said that people shouldn’t worry about catching the flu by touching an ATM or a restaurant menu, as long as they used “common sense.”

Adams said getting the flu vaccine is one of those common-sense protections, if you are able to get the shot.

He said if you saw the person in front of you coughing and sneezing, then use your own stylus or make sure to use hand sanitizer.

His advice to those who already caught the flu was to stay home so they don’t touch items out in public.

If they decide to venture out while sick, they need to make sure to not get close to others, cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing and keep the hands clean.

Adams said that because he got his flu vaccine and washes his hands often, he doesn’t worry about contracting the flu from commonly touched items.

According to the most recent numbers from the state health department, the virus is still widespread across the state.

Despite the number of people touching credit card machines, grocery carts or gas pumps, Lowe said she tries to keep it all in perspective.

“When you think about it, there are so many opportunities to pick up germs, no matter what you’re doing. Even in the house. If you let it affect you that much, then you really could wind up becoming a little OCD about everything,” Lowe said.


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