Shoppers can pick up much more than the hottest new toy on Black Friday or any other day spent perusing the aisles. Cold and flu viruses can lurk on many common surfaces in stores, making shopping a potentially dangerous activity.
Medical Director of Infection Control Dr. Katherine Baumgarten said the influenza virus can live on hard surfaces for two to eight hours after an infected person touches it, turning your favorite stores into a potential flu harvest.
“Simply walking into a store can be a hazard as the door handle contains germs from everyone who has touched it in the past 8 hours,” Baumgarten said. “Obviously, it’s impossible to shop ‘germ-free,’ but if you’re conscious of the ways in which germs travel from person to person, it’s much easier to protect yourself.”
Opening doors, picking up merchandise, touching elevator buttons and escalator handles, pulling out a chair, exchanging money or credit cards, eating with your fingers, rubbing your eyes or sampling hand lotions and perfumes can all lead to infection.
Baumgarten offered these germ-reducing tips to help keep holiday shoppers healthy:
- Wash hands before eating anything.
- Find a table on the edge of the food court to avoid contact with close-knit crowds.
- If possible, avoid finger-foods (french fries, hamburgers, chicken nuggets).
- Don’t rub your eyes or nose, or cover coughs or sneezes with your hands.
- Use a paper towel on bathroom doors to exit.
- Bring a shopping bag from home to keep all your purchases together and reduce contact.
- Opt for less crowded shopping times or spend time shopping online.
- Avoid sampling the perfumes and lotions.
- Take advantage of hand sanitizer samples at checkout counters.
“You’ve heard it before, but the single best way to protect yourself is through hand washing or hand sanitizers,” Baumgarten said.
Constant handwashing and alcohol-based hand sanitizers can dry out your hands, but Baumgarten said simply pushing the pumps on lotions or perfumes can add germs to a clean hand. Instead, ask the store clerk to use hand sanitizing lotions that sanitize as well as moisturize.
“Remember, it’s the season to spend time with others, so go out and enjoy yourself but heed these simple, unobtrusive suggestions to stay healthy for the holidays,” Baumgarten said.
For other tips on flu prevention, click here.