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11 Things Germier Than Toilet Seats

People are understandably squeamish about public restrooms. But the same people are probably regularly interacting with surfaces that have far more germs and overall icky-ness than your average public toilet seat. For example...

1. Hotel/Motel Bedspread

Unlike the sheets, hotels and motels do not change or launder the bedspreads on a daily basis. It's actually more of an annual thing. And if you don't think there are various bodily fluids lingering in those coverings, let us remind you that when the bedspread from an internationally ranked five-star hotel was introduced as evidence in boxer Mike Tyson's rape trial, investigators found it coated with the DNA of so many different men that it took some significant time to finally isolate traces of Tyson's contribution.

2. Purse Bottoms

Many women who fear the germs of public toilet seats don't think twice about placing their purses down on the floor of the bathroom stall. Not only that, they also set them on the floor while riding the bus, or while dining at a restaurant, or while dancing at a nightclub, or on the bedspread at a hotel (see above). And then, when they get home, they set that same purse on the kitchen counter or the dining room table while they rifle through the daily mail or check their phone messages.

Nelson Laboratories of Salt Lake City tested a random selection of ladies' purses: those belonging to moms, executive types, and swinging singles. What did they find? Pseudomonas, staphylococcus aurous, salmonella, and e-coli. Many of the handbags had fecal contamination, and those belonging to the women that frequented dance clubs also had traces of vomit. In layman's terms, the pocketbooks were infested with harmful bacteria, the types that can cause all sorts of infections.

3. ATM Keypad

Studies have shown that the various keys on your average ATM serve as a cozy nesting place for Bacillus Cereus, a bacterium that can cause symptoms in humans similar to those of food poisoning. Yet folks casually punch those buttons and then go about their business without a second thought, touching their eye area to assuage an itch or holding the Egg McMuffin that they're munching during their morning commute.

4. Office Telephone

Have you ever used a corporate telephone other than the one on your desk? Who knows what evils lurk on that communal device... other than the 25,127 germs found in a square inch on the average telephone receiver as discovered in a 2004 University of Arizona study. Think about it... the person who used that phone before you might not have the same fastidious hand-washing habits as you, and he/she may have answered a call immediately upon exiting the bathroom...

5. Restaurant Menu

Servers barely have enough time to take an order from table 11 and then rush to tables 14 and 17 to deliver that extra side of Ranch dressing and a round of beverages, respectively. Do we really expect them to wipe down the restaurant's oft-handled menus with anti-bacterial wipes in their "spare" time? The Journal of Medical Virology has reported that flu viruses can survive on a hard surface for as long as 18 hours. Think of how many hands have touched that bill of fare before you browsed over it and then immediately used your fingers to transport dinner rolls or breadsticks directly to your mouth.

6. Condiment Containers

Speaking of restaurants and germs living on hard surfaces, how many of you disinfect your hands in between handling the ketchup bottle or salt/pepper shakers and your food?

7. Grocery Carts

So you're afraid to set your naked hindquarters on a toilet seat that is routinely cleaned with bleach-infused products, but you push a grocery cart through your local supermarket bare-handed? The handle of which has been touched by folks who've coughed or sneezed into their hands and have also handled packages of raw meat? And those of you who place items in the fold-out children's seat – does it not occur to you that many a child's diapered bottom has previously occupied that space? A four-year study conducted by the University of Arizona at supermarkets in Tucson, San Francisco, Chicago, and Tampa revealed that shopping buggies were rife with such bacteria and viruses as E. coli, salmonella, and Staphylococcus.

8. Steering Wheel

As mentioned above, public toilet seats are washed on a regular basis, but when is the last time you scrubbed down the steering wheel of your vehicle? During a typical day you might touch things such as a gas pump dispenser, cash from the bank drive-thru window, and your crying child's runny nose in the back seat, and then use those same hands to grip the steering wheel after every transaction without any disinfecting in between. Oh, did I mention that some of us also eat food and apply eye makeup while driving with those same hands that are gripping the germ-laden (mainly with bacillus cereus and arthrobacter) steering wheel?

9. Kitchen Faucet Handle(s)

Dr. Charles Gerba, an environmental biologist at the University of Arizona, once declared that if an alien from another planet landed in an average Earth household, he would determine (after a careful bacterial count) that he should wash his hands in the toilet and use the kitchen sink as a commode. Yep, our kitchen sponges and faucet handles are that contaminated with nasties, mainly because we tend to touch these items many times in the midst of handling raw meat, eggs, and poultry while preparing a meal.

10. Gym Equipment

How many of you who work out regularly at a gym grip the handrails on the treadmill or the handlebars on the stationary bike without a second thought? Or perhaps you grasp a series of different free weights during your strength-building workout. Odds are that at sometime during your workout you'll swipe a sweaty fist across your eyes or scratch an itch some place on your person (an innocent, unconscious activity that might break the skin and unintentionally place a virtual welcome mat inviting infection). You might be interested to know that the nasty "superbug" methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (better known as MRSA), which can survive on non-host surfaces for up to a month, has been found on various gym machines in studies done across the U.S. That's in addition to the sarcinia, candida specie, and staphylococcus epi that was also harvested from the various standard gym apparatus. And don't get us started on what was found on the floors of the showers...

11. Swings and Monkey Bars and Such

OK, this particular hotbed of germs might affect your offspring more than you, but it's certainly worth a mention, especially if you allow your child to munch on snacks while they romp. If your child ever frolics on the monkey bars, jungle gym, swings, ball pit, etc., of a communal play area, then his hands are a virtual Petri dish of disgustingness after each and every play date. Besides the traces of human fecal material found on such equipment in many studies, there is also the fact that kids with runny noses tend to use their hands as handkerchiefs while playing, and various birds in the area use playground equipment as their personal comfort station.

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More Details Emerge About 'Oumuamua, Earth's First-Recorded Interstellar Visitor
 NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech

In October, scientists using the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope sighted something extraordinary: Earth's first confirmed interstellar visitor. Originally called A/2017 U1, the once-mysterious object has a new name—'Oumuamua, according to Scientific American—and researchers continue to learn more about its physical properties. Now, a team from the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy has published a detailed report of what they know so far in Nature.

Fittingly, "'Oumuamua" is Hawaiian for "a messenger from afar arriving first." 'Oumuamua's astronomical designation is 1I/2017 U1. The "I" in 1I/2017 stands for "interstellar." Until now, objects similar to 'Oumuamua were always given "C" and "A" names, which stand for either comet or asteroid. New observations have researchers concluding that 'Oumuamua is unusual for more than its far-flung origins.

It's a cigar-shaped object 10 times longer than it is wide, stretching to a half-mile long. It's also reddish in color, and is similar in some ways to some asteroids in own solar system, the BBC reports. But it's much faster, zipping through our system, and has a totally different orbit from any of those objects.

After initial indecision about whether the object was a comet or an asteroid, the researchers now believe it's an asteroid. Long ago, it might have hurtled from an unknown star system into our own.

'Oumuamua may provide astronomers with new insights into how stars and planets form. The 750,000 asteroids we know of are leftovers from the formation of our solar system, trapped by the Sun's gravity. But what if, billions of years ago, other objects escaped? 'Oumuamua shows us that it's possible; perhaps there are bits and pieces from the early years of our solar system currently visiting other stars.

The researchers say it's surprising that 'Oumuamua is an asteroid instead of a comet, given that in the Oort Cloud—an icy bubble of debris thought to surround our solar system—comets are predicted to outnumber asteroids 200 to 1 and perhaps even as high as 10,000 to 1. If our own solar system is any indication, it's more likely that a comet would take off before an asteroid would.

So where did 'Oumuamua come from? That's still unknown. It's possible it could've been bumped into our realm by a close encounter with a planet—either a smaller, nearby one, or a larger, farther one. If that's the case, the planet remains to be discovered. They believe it's more likely that 'Oumuamua was ejected from a young stellar system, location unknown. And yet, they write, "the possibility that 'Oumuamua has been orbiting the galaxy for billions of years cannot be ruled out."

As for where it's headed, The Atlantic's Marina Koren notes, "It will pass the orbit of Jupiter next May, then Neptune in 2022, and Pluto in 2024. By 2025, it will coast beyond the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt, a field of icy and rocky objects."

Last week, University of Wisconsin–Madison astronomer Ralf Kotulla and scientists from UCLA and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) used the WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, to take some of the first pictures of 'Oumuamua. You can check them out below.

Images of an interloper from beyond the solar system — an asteroid or a comet — were captured on Oct. 27 by the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Ariz.
Images of 'Oumuamua—an asteroid or a comet—were captured on October 27.
WIYN OBSERVATORY/RALF KOTULLA

U1 spotted whizzing through the Solar System in images taken with the WIYN telescope. The faint streaks are background stars. The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image. In these images U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faint
The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image against faint streaks of background stars. In these images, U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faintest visible stars.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Color image of U1, compiled from observations taken through filters centered at 4750A, 6250A, and 7500A.
Color image of U1.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

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Scientists Analyze the Moods of 90,000 Songs Based on Music and Lyrics
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Based on the first few seconds of a song, the part before the vocalist starts singing, you can judge whether the lyrics are more likely to detail a night of partying or a devastating breakup. The fact that musical structures can evoke certain emotions just as strongly as words can isn't a secret. But scientists now have a better idea of which language gets paired with which chords, according to their paper published in Royal Society Open Science.

For their study, researchers from Indiana University downloaded 90,000 songs from Ultimate Guitar, a site that allows users to upload the lyrics and chords from popular songs for musicians to reference. Next, they pulled data from labMT, which crowd-sources the emotional valence (positive and negative connotations) of words. They referred to the music recognition site Gracenote to determine where and when each song was produced.

Their new method for analyzing the relationship between music and lyrics confirmed long-held knowledge: that minor chords are associated with sad feelings and major chords with happy ones. Words with a negative valence, like "pain," "die," and "lost," are all more likely to fall on the minor side of the spectrum.

But outside of major chords, the researchers found that high-valence words tend to show up in a surprising place: seventh chords. These chords contain four notes at a time and can be played in both the major and minor keys. The lyrics associated with these chords are positive all around, but their mood varies slightly depending on the type of seventh. Dominant seventh chords, for example, are often paired with terms of endearment, like "baby", or "sweet." With minor seventh chords, the words "life" and "god" are overrepresented.

Using their data, the researchers also looked at how lyric and chord valence differs between genres, regions, and eras. Sixties rock ranks highest in terms of positivity while punk and metal occupy the bottom slots. As for geography, Scandinavia (think Norwegian death metal) produces the dreariest music while songs from Asia (like K-Pop) are the happiest. So if you're looking for a song to boost your mood, we suggest digging up some Asian rock music from the 1960s, and make sure it's heavy on the seventh chords.

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