Tests reveal staph, bacteria on everyday items like phones

Local News

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — Germs are lurking everywhere. They’re in the air, and on things like our cell phones.

You may be wondering, how dangerous can these germs be, and can they get you sick? We worked with scientists at Stormont Vail and Washburn University to test everyday products, to see if the germs hiding on the products are concerning. Two women, who live two different lifestyles, brought their everyday items in to find out what’s really on them.

Katie Jones is a mother of one, and a teacher at Washburn Rural Middle School. She had her cell phone, her daughter’s baby doll and book swabbed for bacteria at Stormont Vail Hospital.

“I’m assuming my cell phone case,” Katie Jones said when asked which item she thought would have the most germs. “I have it with me almost all the time. It’s something I don’t think about really cleaning a lot.”

Katie said she’s always cleaning up, whether it’s at home or in her classroom. Like most of us, her cell phone and daughter’s toys aren’t cleaned off as often.

Kelsey Clements is a single woman who only has to clean up after herself. Like Katie, she makes sure she wipes and cleans everything, washing her hands when she can.

She took her wallet, a mousepad and her cell phone to get tested at Washburn University.

“Most people don’t wash their wallets,” Kelsey said when asked which product she thought would show the most germs. “They don’t think of it. With a kitchen sponge, you’re washing dishes with it so you think that it would be clean. With a wallet, you never think about cleaning it.”

After a few days of sitting in an incubator, Katie and Kelsey’s results were in.

Katie’s phone showed up with the most germs, sitting in one area of the petri dish.

“There was a variety of species of staphylococcus,” Becky Martin said, the microbiology supervisor at the Stormont Vail lab who tested Katie’s things. “We also found a bacillus species. And we did find a gram-negative rod called Enterobacter cloacae.”

In a non-scientific way, Katie’s phone showed staph, and a bacteria that could cause infection. However, this staph isn’t the one that causes sickness. It’s just bacteria we have sitting on our hands that’s good for us.

Katie’s other products also showed different bacteria, but not as much as the phone and not harmful to her or her daughter. Even though they may look gross, the bacteria actually is quite harmless.

“I kind of expected the worst,” Katie said. “So, I’m pretty happy with good news.”

The associate professor at Washburn University, Susan Bjerke, tested each of Kelsey’s items in room temperature and body temperature incubators with a few colorful dishes testing for E. coli and staph.

Kelsey’s results showed almost nothing.

“I was nervous it was going to be worse,” Kelsey said. “But it turned out really good.”

The bacteria on Katie and Kelsey’s items are germs we live around every day.

The bacteria that sit in the air, the soil and on counters can actually make our body healthier.

“So you don’t necessarily want your kid eating dirt in the garden,” Susan said. “But you also don’t want to sterilize everything and get rid of microbes everywhere. Because that does help your immune system kind of develop and have the ability to fight off future infections.”

While there are good bacteria, that’s not to say there aren’t bad bacteria around us.

A few places you should pay close attention to are kitchen handles and light switches. Scientists say the bad bacteria can hide there because we don’t clean them as often.

Germs aren’t just a danger in our homes. Some of the everyday germs, and possibly bad germs, are being passed on to other people through makeup testers in stores.

You should always be careful when trying a makeup product before buying it. A study found makeup testers hold a lot of germs as well, even the bad ones. So always ask someone who works at the store to disinfect those makeup testers before using them.

The best way to avoid spreading germs and possibly getting sick from them is washing your hands, and not touching your eyes, nose and mouth without proper sanitation.

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