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Germs and Bacteria: Testing What You Come in Contact with Daily - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Germs and Bacteria: Testing What You Come in Contact with Daily

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A quick trip to fill up the tank or walking through the front door of a public building are things we do on a regular basis.  And they are all everyday chances for us to come into contact with something dangerous. We are talking about germs and bacteria, which can both be harmful.

Germs and bacteria are everywhere in the community and on every surface and most are harmless, but not always. We put everyday surfaces under the microscope for a series of tests to get a better understanding of what we cannot see with the naked eye.

The man on the case for us was our own Henry Graff, who is still recovering from a very public battle with an infection. Henry picked up methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) from somewhere in this community.

Bacteria can live on inanimate surfaces like a desk for a few days. On people, those same bacteria can thrive for months.

MJH Microbiology Supervisor Shirley Jenkins stated, "Bacteria is everywhere and you're not going stop from picking up bacteria."

On any given day, we come into contact with thousands of types of bacteria, found on surfaces including ourselves.

MJH Medical Technologist Jill Livingood said, "Sometimes people just carry it. It doesn't always cause an infection."

So what is out there? NBC29 teamed up with Martha Jefferson Hospital to carefully swab a series of nine surfaces people usually come into contact with. We ran a series of tests to get a better understanding of what is hiding in plain sight.

Following a two-day in-lab culture, the results are in.  While we did not find any red flags with our tests, make no mistake, germs are out there and can hurt you.

First up for our tests was a kitchen sponge used to clean dishes everyday and wipe down countertops.  Our tests showed it was a haven of germs - including colon bacteria.

MJH medical technologist Jill Livingood said, "If I saw that it makes me think twice about wanting to have a sponge in my home that I'm cleaning my counter or dishes with."

A gas pump handle is a potential haven for bacteria, with hundreds of people touching it every single day. We tested one and found bacteria, including staph epidermis.

On the door handle of a public building, we found more bacteria but, luckily, none that could do much harm.

One of the dirtiest things we tested was human hands. Our videographer offered up his hand to be swabbed after a day of hard work. The result was loads of bacteria, including staph.

Livingood said, "If this was in a human body, in someone's blood, we could detect it growing."

How about that menu from your favorite restaurant? The one you touch right before you start handling food. Our results show it contained two types of bacteria: bacillus and cocci - which is likely strep.

We found more results that are harmless on a dollar bill, a public water fountain on the downtown mall, and the keyboard of a computer inside a public library.  Most surprisingly clean in our testing, was the handle of a grocery shopping cart. It had the least amount of bacteria on it. 

Jill Livingood, MJH medical technologist said, "In grocery stores, they provide the cleaners and it looks like this grocery cart is pretty clean."

Dr. Daniel Sawyer is an infectious disease expert. He reviewed the results of our experiment and said the results were reassuring, because our selected swabs did not reveal any MRSA, a highly resistant strain of staph.

"The interesting thing is that in those cultures there was very few staph," Sawyer stated. "It may be where we look, and it may be a sampling discrepancy."

Dr. Sawyer admits he expected to see more staph and MRSA on the items we tested. So the experiment we did is likely not a true representation of what is out there.

So how should we protect ourselves? Experts say hand sanitizer is key to killing 99 percent of germs and bacteria. A common misconception is that this can breed super bugs, like the MRSA that Henry got, but that is false.  Experts say we have to be careful with antibiotics because a virus can morph and become resistant to drugs.

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