Recently, a study by Weill Cornell Medical College found that the New York City subway is filled to the brim with germs. They are plentiful and easily get on you, but don’t worry. Most of the germs are good for you and the rest are more or less harmless.
Over at CityLab they wondered then if all those odd things people do to avoid germs are worthwhile.
These “good” bacteria might come from food, remove toxins from the environment, or outcompete disease-causing pathogens lurking on surfaces. “That means more [bacterial] diversity, by the odds, would be a good thing,” Mason says.
Still, here at CityLab we have to admit to falling prey to dubious germaphobic behaviors, especially during cold and flu season. None of us has started wearing a surgical mask to work or anything (yet!), but at least some of us do things like flush public toilets with our feet, use tissues to open certain doors, and slather on what has to be far too much antibacterial gel. And the worst part is, none of us can really say whether doing any of this stuff actually works.
So we asked Mason and Dr. Martin Blaser, an epidemiologist at New York University, to tell us how much disease we’re really preventing with some of our most common germ-avoidance maneuvers. (Spoiler: not much.) Keep these caveats in mind next time you reach for the Purell.