Germiest Attractions in the US

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Studies show that 80 percent of infections are transmitted through the environment, which makes travel an especially germy enterprise. While we're not suggesting that you re-route your entire vacation, it never hurts to exercise a little extra care in these days of H1N1 influenza and MRSA staphylococcus (just two of the diseases that can be transmitted by tactile contact). Still, there are a few vacation experiences that you just might want to skip this season (scenic Malibu being one of them-the famous beach is known for sewage as much as it is for celebrities).
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Germiest Attractions in the US

Have you ever given a famous statue a little rub for luck or strolled along picturesque Malibu Beach enjoying the scenery? Get out the soap and water.

Studies show that 80 percent of infections are transmitted through the environment, which makes travel an especially germy enterprise. While we're not suggesting that you re-route your entire vacation, it never hurts to exercise a little extra care in these days of H1N1 influenza and MRSA staphylococcus (just two of the diseases that can be transmitted by tactile contact). Still, there are a few vacation experiences that you just might want to skip this season (scenic Malibu being one of them-the famous beach is known for sewage as much as it is for celebrities).

You should be equally wary of any surface that is frequently rubbed, patted, or spit on by the thousands. Believe it or not-that means several of our nation's most popular attractions.

Here are some of the most germ-infested spots across the U.S.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/herval/ / CC BY 2.0

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What's a more iconic American beach than Malibu? Surfers and movie stars, not to mention films like The Big Lebowski, have made this northern end of the Santa Monica Bay the center of the nation's attention. But you might want to think twice before you get into those waters. The bay is shockingly polluted. The waste from LA's city streets drain straight into the bay, and there have been alarming sewage spills (the owner of a nearby home in Malibu has been hit with a proposed $1.65 million fine for letting 2,000 gallons of raw sewage spill into the ocean in 2007 and 2008). Don't go digging in the sand either-the beaches have also been found to harbor E. coli, another result of the sewage spills.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/97657657@N00/ / CC BY 2.0

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Grauman's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles is one of the most elaborate fantasy theaters from the golden age of cinema and, one could argue, one of the most famous movie theaters in the world. In 1927, founder Sid Grauman convinced Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks to put their foot and handprints into cement sidewalk blocks in the theater's forecourt. Some of Hollywood's most enduring stars followed suit, as have nearly four million tourists each year-most of whom can't resist putting their hands into the prints. Multiply those numbers by the 500,000-plus bacteria that live on a single person's hand and you start to realize just how dirty those prints are. Now consider that bacteria can live for over two hours on a hard surface and reproduce every 20 minutes, and the sheer number of organisms in a single print becomes mind-boggling. The more beloved the star's palm-print, the germier it will be (the top three most-touched prints are, in this order: Marilyn Monroe's, Lucille Ball's, and John Wayne's).

http://www.flickr.com/photos/schmich/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

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Last year Las Vegas had 37,481,552 visitors, making the city a metropolis of people...and bacteria. It hardly seems fair to single out one casino, but the MGM Grand at 170,000 square feet is Vegas's biggest casino, with 2,600 gaming machines. And there-in lie the germs, left by thousands of hands diligently working the slots and video poker machines. Consider that nearly all of the hands fondling the machines will have come into contact with money that evening and you start to realize just how filthy those games really are (unlike harder surfaces like desks and walls, which only support bacteria for approximately two hours, germs can live on money for up to three days). Think casino chips are any cleaner? Think again. In February 2007, a team from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas set out to measure the number and type of bacteria on a single chip. Disturbingly, they found that the most common bacterium found was staphylococcus, an organism that can lead to serious skin infections (it's more deadly version, MRSA, kills approximately 80,000 people per year).

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kalooz/ / CC BY 2.0

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Over Christmas in 1989 a 7,000-pound bronze sculpture of a charging bull appeared in front of the Stock Exchange. The artist, Arturo dei Modica, said he'd created it to honor the American spirit after the stock market crash of 1987. The police were not amused and carted it away, but protests were raised, and the bull landed at Bowling Green, a pocket park north of Battery Park and just a few blocks from many Wall Street offices. He's frequently patted and rubbed by investors in need of some luck, and last spring some wag painted his testicles blue. Just thinking about the number of fingers rubbing the bull is unsettling, but it's where those hands have been-in grubby Wall Street offices-that's most disturbing. A study by the University of Arizona in 2002 found that the typical worker's desk had 21,000 germs per square inch-that's hundreds of times more bacteria per square inch than an office toilet seat. Phones were also found to be prime culprits for distributing rhinoviruses-the type of bacteria that cause colds. So keep your hands to yourself, unless you really need some financial luck (and you have a bottle of hand sanitizer on the ready).

http://www.flickr.com/photos/herval/ / CC BY 2.0

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Some time in the early '90s people started mashing their chewing gum onto the brick walls outside this theater on Post Alley at the Pike Place Market in Seattle. Some say it's because the theater didn't allow gum inside. One way or the other, people have created nearly 50 feet of colorful gum art and graffiti. It doesn't take a genius to realize that the wall is rife with bacteria, but just how germy is the gummy surface? While no one can say for sure, we do know that 100 million germs exist in every milliliter of saliva, including over 600 species of organisms (half of which haven't even been identified yet). We recommend that you resist touching the Wall of Gum and instead go inside for a night of improvisational theater.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/8339802@N02/ / CC BY 2.0

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The most polluted river in the U.S. stretches 2,350 miles from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. The EPA says 702,496,748 pounds of toxic discharges have entered the river between the years of 1990-1994 thanks to chemical leaks from factories, as well as pesticides, sediment and fertilizer from farms and runoff from cities. Still, long stretches of the river are beautiful, and people cruise the river, rent houseboats and kayak. The trick is: don't fall in, and if you do, never swallow the water.

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Germiest Attractions in the US

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