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Flu Alert: Dirty Gas Pump Handles May Transmit Flu Virus

Tim Boyer's picture
Gas pump handle flu alert

Gas pump handles are the No.1 filthiest surface is a recent finding by researchers, which exemplifies the need to wash your hands often to avoid catching and transmitting the flu virus. While the findings are not unexpected as viral and bacterial contamination of public surfaces is a well-known fact, it does serve as a reminder to the public that hand washing plays an important role in curtailing transmission of the flu virus as well as harmful flesh-eating bacteria.

Researchers at the Kimberly-Clark Corporation - a business that focuses on personal hygiene products and healthcare - recently announced the results of a study to determine which everyday public surfaces are the filthiest in the public domain.

Hygienists from Kimberly-Clark traveled to six U.S. cities - Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and Philadelphia - and swabbed hundreds of surfaces to determine which were the most likely to possess bacteria and flu-causing viruses. What they found was that the No. 1 filthiest surface was the gas pump handle at public service stations.

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Following gas pump handles, the next filthiest were handles on public mailboxes, escalator rails at malls and the buttons on ATMs. Other, less filthy, but still potentially harmful surfaces were parking meters, kiosks, crosswalk buttons and vending machines.
"It comes down to the fact that nobody cleans the things that you're going to touch on a daily basis," said Dr. Kelly Arehart, the project leader of Kimberly-Clark's Healthy Workplace Project.

Indeed, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 50% of healthy people have the bacterial strain Staphylococcus aureus living in or on their nasal passages, throats, hair, or skin—which includes the hands as a major source.

And, it’s not just bacteria that are a concern, but flu viruses as well. Each year, an average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized each year because of flu-related complications of which many could be prevented though good hand washing habits. The CDC states that if everyone washed their hands on a regular basis that up to a million deaths could be prevented yearly.

One last note and precaution: In a previous study made by a high school student for a science project that was replicated in subsequent studies, the top filthiest surface in restaurants was not their public restrooms, but the underside edges of chairs people use to grasp when pulling themselves closer to the table before eating. That’s some food for thought before dining at your next meal.