Wear shower shoes unless you want to risk an infection

Walking around barefoot in the privacy of your own home is a joy for some. But doing so in a public space – such as a dorm room or gym shower area with high foot traffic – means exposing yourself to any number of fungi or bacteria, courtesy of strangers.

As students shuffle their way into new dorm rooms, not to mention student athletes flooding showers and locker rooms, it's an important time of year to prepare for these potential new health risks. For all the ins and outs of foot care in these types of spaces – and to find out if you're better off wearing shower shoes – U.S. News spoke with Dr. Dyane Tower, the director of clinical affairs at the American Podiatric Medical Association.

What kinds of infections do I have to be most worried about? Fungal and bacterial infections are the most common types of infections you could pick up. Fungi typically like moist, dark locations – i.e. a shower with the curtain drawn. This fungus could lead to athlete's foot, a fungal infection that usually begins in between the toes. What's more: If you go into a shower, and someone with athlete's foot has used that shower, that person's skin cells and fungus could still be there.

Where germs are hiding:

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11 Sneaky Places Germs are Hiding in Your Kitchen
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11 Sneaky Places Germs are Hiding in Your Kitchen

The kitchen is one of the germiest places in the average home.

Refrigerator Drawers

The produce drawer in your refrigerator can be contaminated with salmonella, listeria, yeast and mold. To clean it, remove the drawer from the fridge and wash it in warm, soapy water.

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Kitchen Sink

It’s no secret; lots of germs are washed down the kitchen sink. Make sure the pathogens don’t linger by disinfecting it daily with a solution of bleach and water.

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Can Opener

The best way to ensure that salmonella, E.coli, yeast and mold aren’t growing on your can opener is to wash it in the dishwasher after each use. If you don’t have a dishwasher, hand-wash after each use but be sure to pay extra attention to the area around the blade.

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Rubber Spatula

Check to see if your spatula can be disassembled. If so, remove the handle and wash both pieces in the dishwasher or by hand to remove any E.coli, yeast or mold that may be present. If the spatula cannot be disassembled, be sure to pay special attention to the area where the two pieces join when washing.

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Salt and Pepper Shakers

Because they’re handled so frequently, salt and pepper shakers harbor a tremendous amount of germs. The best way to ensure that your salt and pepper shakers are clean is to periodically wipe them down with disinfecting wipes.

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Knife Block

Periodically clean your knife block to prevent yeast and mold from thriving. Remove the knives, turn the knife block over to remove any loose debris, and then clean the knife block in hot soapy water using a small brush in each of the slots.

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Rubber-Seal Containers

Reusable containers with a rubber seal can harbor salmonella, yeast, and mold. If the rubber seal is removable, remove it before machine or hand washing. If it’s not, be sure to pay special attention to the area around the seal when hand washing.

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Coffee Reservoir

Mold, mildew and bacteria can all be hiding in the reservoir of your coffee maker. Clean your coffee maker according to the manufacturers’ instructions frequently; many also recommend using vinegar.

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Blender

The blender is another kitchen gadget that needs to be fully disassembled before washing. Be sure to remove the blade and seal from the jar and base before washing to prevent salmonella, E. coli, yeast and mold from thriving. Be sure to dry each piece thoroughly before reassembling.

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Sponges, Rags, and Towels

Your dish sponge, rag and towels all create an ideal environment for pathogens. Be sure to wash and change your rags and towels frequently and microwave your dish sponge for a few seconds after each use to help disinfect and dry it.

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Rubber Seal on Your Refrigerator Door

Much like the rubber seal on food storage containers, the seal around the door of your refrigerator or freezer can harbor harmful bacteria. Remember to clean it periodically with soapy water and then dry it thoroughly with a clean towel.

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As for bacteria, any kind could theoretically make its way there. One of the bigger threats these days is community-acquired MRSA, which is an infection people can get when they live in crowded spaces/and or use the same contaminated objects. That's something that can cause abscesses, which may require antibiotics and drainage.

What do these infections look like? Athlete's foot typically involves red, flaky skin and can be very itchy. If it's not flaky, it could also produce a lot of little blisters. It can show up in between the toes and look really moist – pruny, even.

A bacterial infection is usually red, swollen and painful to the touch, and that location can be warmer. Sometimes you actually see drainage like pus or something coming from that area.

If this is going on, have someone take a look at it to triage the situation.

Related: Dirtiest thing at a restaurant

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These Are the 11 Dirtiest Things in Every Restaurant
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These Are the 11 Dirtiest Things in Every Restaurant

Read on to learn what the 11 dirtiest things in every restaurant are.

Toilet

While the toilet usually gets cleaned regularly, it’s still obviously not something you really want to be touching with your hands. A study found that there are 295 bacteria on every square inch of the toilet seat, and 3.2 million inside the bowl itself.

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Ice

An investigation into fast food restaurants in the U.S. found that 70 percent of the ice in the ice machine contained more bacteria than the water in the toilet.

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Bathroom Floor

Public restroom floors have been found to contain about 2 million bacteria per square inch.

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Menu

Some icky news: menus are rarely if ever given a thorough cleaning, especially if they’re paper. Recently, Good Morning America sent a team to swab items on the tables of 12 restaurants, and they discovered that menus carried the most germs, averaging 185,000 bacteria.

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Doorknobs

The average bathroom doorknob gets cleaned daily (or as often as the bathroom is cleaned), but by the time dinner service rolls around it’s usually filthy again. As for the main entrance door handle… don’t ask.

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Salt and Pepper Shakers, Ketchup Bottles

The items that remain on the tables throughout all of service can get quite a germy buildup over the course of the day. Ever notice that they’re sometimes sticky? Yeah, you don’t want to be touching these very much.

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Lemon Wedges

The lemons that garnish your Diet Coke and limes that get muddled into your mojito most likely weren’t washed first, and they’ve been sitting all day (or sometimes longer) in the open tray on the bar before the bartender touches them with his bare hands. If you squeeze the lemon into your soda, don’t toss it into your drink.

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Salad Bar Tongs

These are rarely replaced during service, and are handled by everyone else who approaches the salad bar. They’re basically as dirty as the toilet flush handle.

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Faucets

What’s the first thing people usually touch after using the toilet? The sink faucet. Here’s a tip: Wash your hands, grab some paper towels, dry your hands, turn off the water and open the door with the towel in your hand, hold the door open with your leg and toss the towel into the trash. No contact = clean hands.

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Rims of Glasses

If you ever see a server hand you a drink with their fingers on the rim of the glass, request a new drink. As a rule of thumb, always drink from a straw at a restaurant.

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Tables

Sure, tables get a wipe-down between customers, but have you ever seen the ratty old rag that they usually use? All is basically does is spread the gunk around. If any of your food touches the table, consider it a goner.

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Does the average person have to worry about this? You're more at risk in a place where you don't necessarily know or interact with people you're sharing a shower with. But it's certainly possible that one of your roommates, for instance, has athlete's foot that you could pick up. Clean the shower relatively frequently and use products that would disinfect against fungal elements.

On a personal level, make sure you're taking good care of your feet – i.e. washing them and drying really well in between your toes. Also, don't put socks on your feet until they're dry, and make sure your shoes get a chance to dry out in between uses. If you think your feet get moist easily, there are powders you can purchase to use on them.

In theory, a young, healthy person might not get any kind of infection from being barefoot in this kind of situation. But you might not even know you have an open wound like a cut or blister on your foot, so you'd be putting yourself at risk. This is particularly true if you have other medical problems that put you at a greater risk of contracting infections, or if you have a sensitivity toward fungi or mold.

And if you can, wear shower shoes – particularly ones that dry out. Take Tower's advice to heart: You never know what you might pick up.

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