Dangerous amounts of bacteria found on everyday items

This digitally colorized microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) shows Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in yellow. New research found protective bacteria in healthy skin produce natural antibiotics that can guard against disease-causing Staph aureus. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases via AP)

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) -  Bacteria is on every surface, which means we touch it countless times every day.

On any given day you grab your keys, reach for door knob, go to the bathroom, take a phone call, pump gas, and pay with money. You touch thousands of items, but do you ever stop to think about what could be growing on them?

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, 80 percent of infections come from items we touch. That includes keys, money, and especially cellphones.

In a 2011 study, London School of Hygiene Researchers found fecal matter on one of every six smartphones.

 

Baystate Health's Chief Infection Control Officer, Dr. Mary Ellen Scales told the I-Team it would shock you to hear how much bacteria you touch every day. “The common types of things that are carried on hands, so staff would definitely be picked up on that, or GI bugs that could contribute to gastroenteritis. Especially the bathroom towel, you think how many people brush their teeth, then wipe their mouth?”

The 22News I-Team wanted to see what's lurking on everyday items.  We used test swabs to take samples from a dollar bill, a keyboard, and a cell phone.

Dr. Mary Ellen Scales is the Chief Infection Control Officer for Baystate Health. She told the I-Team, some of the dirtiest items are the same items we touch every day. "Bathroom towels, door knobs, cell phones."

According to a study conducted by researchers at the London School of Hygiene, fecal matter can be found on one of every six smartphones, which means the items you touch everyday may be dirtier than a toilet.

Dr. Scales said the more surfaces you touch, the more bacteria you spread. "Just as we think about respiratory things when people cough and sneeze, and don't cover, that gets deposited on things and then you touch it, and you touch your eyes, your nose, your mouth, you give it to yourself. Same kind of thing if a surface gets dirtied by something and not cleaned, then you pick it up."

The I-Team took our three samples to a lab in Connecticut. What we uncovered... was surprisingly clean.

Total plate count is used as an indicator of bacterial populations on a sample. Our keyboard had a total plate count of 440, the phone had a total plate count of 35, and the dollar bill had a total plate count of 15.

Northeast Laboratory Director Alan Johnson told the I-Team bacteria usually becomes a concern when the total plate count is upwards of 1,000.

Johnson said while most people assume money is dirty, the low total plate count makes sense. "They do incorporate antimicrobials into money. "

Antimicrobials help slow the growth of bacteria, but Johnson told the I-Team not all currency has been sanitized with it.

Johnson also explained that just because our samples weren't loaded with bacteria, doesn't mean everyday items usually aren't. "There have been cases where people get skin infections through gym equipment, playgrounds also have a high bacteria count."

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, 80 percent of infections come from items we touch.

How can you keep your family safe? Wash your hands, wash the items you touch, and remember that bacteria is always lurking.

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