H-SAN LUIS OBISPO

Sep 17, 2011 12:17 AM by Nancy Chen

"Contagion" movie sparks conversation about germs--where you may be getting dirtier when you think you're cleaning up

If you're planning on catching a movie this weekend, you might want to eat before you watch "Contagion," last weekend's box-office hit.

The film is about a worldwide pandemic that quickly kills its victims, and it's getting a lot of praise from experts for how realistic it is. It's also stirring up conversation about how many germs are everywhere.

It all comes down to the hands; with those ten fingers, you get money, eat popcorn, pick up a glass. Most of it is second nature and unconscious. But two hours in a movie theater with "Contagion," and you may never want to use them again.

"The average person touches their face three to five times every waking minute," Kate Winslet's character, a CDC worker, says in one scene. "In between, you're touching doorknobs, water fountains, and everything in between."

"Contagion"--the movie that launched a thousand trips to buy hand santizer.

Several audience members say the worst part of the movie isn't even during the film itself. It's afterwards when they grab a bite to eat and their fellow diners suddenly turn into become incubators for disease.

"For the past few days after I watched it, I'd wash my hands a lot more and wouldn't touch as many things as I normally would," said Zack Glazer, a Cal Poly freshman.

Justin Hodges, an Avila Beach man, couldn't even wait that long.

"During the movie, I actually washed my hands," he said.

But the real question: could it really happen--one pandemic taking humankind to the brink of extinction?

"We hope it's not going to happen," said Claire Grantham, Sierra Vista Hospital's infection preventionist. "But it's pretty unrealistic to think it won't happen or can't happen, shall I say."

Populated areas like Hong Kong often seem to be "Ground Zero" for new diseases, but Grantham says San Luis Obispo had one of the first clusters of H1N1 in the country.

"Any place in the public, you have a risk of it being really germy," she said.

Meanwhile, Glazer says he'll continue washing his hands--"probably for a while until I forget the movie," he said.

But what about when you may actually be getting dirtier when you think you're getting cleaner? Our top three most surprising places:

Shower heads--one study found the levels of bacteria on shower heads were a hundred times higher than those found in typical household water;

Hand dryers--a UK study found they cause a 254 percent increase in a bacteria that can cause food poisoning and other infections; and

Hands-free faucets--a study from Johns Hopkins University found that they had 35 percent more bacteria than manual faucets.

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