During the craziness of the holidays, the last thing you want is to get sidelined with a cold, flu, stomach bug -- or worse. But while you're checking items off your shopping list, you may be exposing yourself to germs -- like flu viruses, E. coli, and staph -- that can make you sick.
"Anywhere people gather is filled with bacteria and viruses, and a crowded shopping mall is a perfect example," says Philip Tierno, Ph.D., director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center.
With that in mind, we asked a panel of experts to rank the worst germ hot spots at your local shopping center. Check out the ewww-inducing results -- and tips for keeping yourself in the clear.
1. Restroom sinks
The filthiest area in a restroom (and therefore in the whole mall) isn't the toilet handle or the doorknob -- it's the sink, our experts say. Bacteria, including E. coli, fester on the faucet and handles because people touch those surfaces right after using the toilet, explains panelist Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona.
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