The cold and flu are a harsh reality of winter for many. Between October and March, about 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population comes down with the flu, according to the CDC. Adults average about 2-3 colds per year and children have even more.

While we all know to wash our hands frequently and eat a healthy diet, to stay healthy it also helps to know the places where we’re most likely to pick up cold and flu causing bacteria and viruses in the first place.

Both cold and flu are contagious infections of the respiratory tract. Coughs and headaches are common to both. Congestion, sore throat and sneezing are associated with colds, while the flu brings tiredness, a high fever and an overall feeling of weakness in the body.  A cold is milder than the flu, and one can’t turn into the other because they are completely different virus.

What they have in common is where you come in contact with them — doorknobs, desks, phones. You’re not even safe at home. The kitchen harbors tons of disease causing bacteria.

October is typically the beginning of cold and flu season, according to the CDC, so get ready. Know all the places you go that put you at risk.

Your phone

If you own a smart phone, chances are you check it several times per hour, one study shows. This means that whatever else you’ve touched during the day is now on your phone. Take it to the bathroom? Drop it on the floor? Leave it on your desk? Even worse. Don’t think because it’s sleek and buttonless that bacteria can’t stick. Bacteria are all over your phone — waiting to make you sick.


When you’re sick, you should stay home. It makes sense — don’t get others sick. Just know that just because you’re home doesn’t mean you’re safe. The kitchen is one of the dirtiest places in the whole house because it gets the most traffic. Think about it. When’s the last time you sanitized your cabinets, draw handles or the faucet. Any place people touch that hasn’t been cleaned, builds up with bacteria.

Public computers

Your work computer. A computer at a local library. A touch-screen food ordering kiosk. Anywhere that a lot of people are going to touch is likely to be loaded with disease spreading moisture droplets. Research shows that the average computer mouse is three times dirties than a toilet seat.

Anywhere with kids

If one kid is sick, the others will follow. Teachers try to show them healthy habits, but of course they’re not always practiced. Schools, daycare centers, indoor playgrounds, rides at the mall — if children are in close proximity, cold and flu viruses will follow.

public transportation

Subways, buses and train stations. Germs and bacteria thrive in these rarely cleaned environments. Try not to touch any door handles, changes, poles or seats with your bare hands. If you use public transit regularly, keep antibacterial hand sanitizer in your bag and use it soon after exiting your stop or station.


If you think about how many people stop by a busy ATM on a city street corner in a day, you’ll realize the likelihood that at least one of those people hasn’t washed their hands. If you’ve gone to an ATM, try not to touch your face or any food until you’ve visited a washroom.

Public Restrooms

Even when you try to practice good hygiene there are still hurdles. Most restrooms don’t get cleaned often, and most don’t get thoroughly scrubbed. Door handles, soap dispensers and paper towel dispensers are all ripe for bacteria.

Elevators and Escalators

Unless you need help maintaining balance, never touch the handrails of stairs and escalators in malls, airports or anywhere else. The are touched by countless people harboring cold and flu virus in between those rare — if ever — cleaning.

Anywhere in the mall

The mall attracts all types of people — especially during cold and flu season. People who still need gifts or are sale hunters will rarely stay home and miss out on saving money or show up empty handed on the holidays. Malls are overcrowded contagion zones. Be aware and wash your hands often, especially in the food court.


When you’re sick, stay home. Unfortunately, with non-refundable airline tickets on the line, many people will choose to fly with a cold or the flu. When a sick people sneezes, anyone within 6 feet of that person is at risk of infection. Wear a mask if you’re really diligent and defiantly don’t touch any surfaces the sick person has touched.

Water Fountain

You may practice good hygiene at the water fountain, but that doesn’t mean other people do. A study found common drinking fountains harbor 2.7 million bacteria per square inch from people coughing, sneezing or spitting in or near the wet fountain. Carry your own water bottle and fill up before you leave the house.

At the doctor

It’s a room full of sick people. Of course there’s a high chance of catching a cold. All of those doorknobs, tables, pens and clipboards you come in contact with will be the same ones dozens of other sick people have touched today.

(h/t The Active Times)

Also: Choosing this seat on an airplane will help you avoid getting sick. 

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Meghan is a full-time writer exploring the fun facts behind food. She lives a healthy lifestyle but lives for breakfast, dessert and anything with marinara. She’s thrown away just as many meals as she’s proud of.