Dirty Texoma: What Do You Come In Contact With Each Day?

Of all the things you touch in a day, how many of them are actually clean. Germs are everywhere and impossible not to pick up, whether it is from the items we touch to the hands we shake.  If you don't take steps to protect yourself you could be carrying around who-knows-what. Newschannel 6 Lindsey Rogers went throughout her typical day and brought along a biology expert to see what kind of bacteria she carries around every day.

Many of us come in contact with lots of people each day. It may not be directly, through things like shaking hands, but infectious diseases don't have to be passed directly. Think of all the things you touch each day that dozens, hundreds, even thousands of other Texomans have also put their paws all over.

"Places that you'll find germs are places where you have a lot of public. The doorway to a store, be it a grocery store, department store, doors coming out of or into a bathroom, shopping carts, any sort of place where you have a multi-use object," Lou Franklin said.

Franklin is the Director of Health for the Wichita Falls Wichita County Public Health District.

To see just exactly what our immune systems are up against, we went to the experts. Assistant Professor Dr. James Masuoka teaches biology at Midwestern State University.

From my routine starting off the day at work to afternoon errands, Dr. Masuoka followed me around through a typical day in my life. We tested all the things I come in contact with the most for bacteria and what we found may surprise you.

When you get to work at 4 a.m. coffee is a must. We tested the pot and the water cooler I use to fill it. Both of which are also handled by several of my co-workers each day. We used a swab to collect the sample then wiped it in a petri dish.

"It's a way of facilitating or making a very rich medium for growth and encouraging growth without having to add in lots of ingredients," Dr. Masuoka said.

He said it only took one night for most of the bacteria to grow. But, what exactly was it that grew, mainly a bacteria called Staphylococcus Epidermidis. Sounds scary, but the biology expert says it is really no major concern.

"This is going to be something you find on people's skin," Dr. Masuoka said.

Next, we moved on to the work space. I spend hours each morning working on a computer, a computer a number of other people also use. The results we found were similar to the other items we mentioned.

A common bacteria, but the number of germs on the mouse were much more concentrated. Actually, more colonies were found on the mouse than in the bathroom.

In the restroom, we swabbed the flusher, sink knobs and door handle and what we found was that our maintenance engineer does a really good job sanitizing.

Dr. Masuoka says people are often surprised by how clean bathrooms are, but the facilities also usually get a lot of attention and bleach.

We then headed out of the office to see what we could find in some very public places. First, a run through the bank drive through. How many times do you think they clean those air-tight containers?

Once again, the bacteria was what Dr. Masuoka calls "normal flora". He says the non-porous surface definitely helps deflect germs.

After making a withdrawal, we headed to Wal Mart. All those people, all those carts, all those germs.

This time, a new bacteria. Dr. Masuoka says he found an organism that is likely a species of Streptomyces.

"This reflects something that spends most of its life outside so they're exposed to many more soil organisms and I think diversity on the plate reflects that," he said.

The good news is, this is commonly used to make antibiotics and is actually not bad at all.

But, the dirtiest things we found hit a little closer to home. Like, the one thing most of us carry around with us everywhere we go, that little electronic device we put up to our face everytime we use it.

My cell phone had more bacteria on it than the bathroom. And not just a little more, there were lots of colonies growing and several different types of colonies.

Again, the same Staphylococcus Epidermidis found on most people's skin, but also a bacteria called Baccilous. That's essentially a dust particle typically found outside.

"They could have just blown on the cell phone when you were walking into work and would've blown off when you left," Dr. Masuoka said.

So, what was the germiest thing I touch in an average day, the one item we tested that is actually supposed to be used to clean with.

The sink sponge had so many bacteria colonies, Dr. Masuoka made two sub-cultures just to try and get a better understanding of what was growing on it. We found what is classified as gram negative.

"Could be e-coli, salmonella, but probably not," he said.

E-coli can be found in almost everyone's intestines and Dr. Masuoka doesn't think what was on the sponge was a pathogen, or diseases producing agent. But, it still had the greatest concentration of germs of all the items we swabbed.

"And now you don't just have a few cells. You have millions or billions of cells. All concentrated in one area and if one is potentially disease causing you are now taking a much higher exposure than in a natural kitchen environment . The real issue is concentration of exposure," he said.

"When you think about the environment germs like to grow they like warm, moist environments and sponge is perfect place for that. So, we really discourage the use of sponges even in home environment," Franklin said.

Franklin says instead, you should use a rag you can throw in the washing machine, or soak the sponge in bleach and put it in the dishwasher on high heat at least once a week.

The best way to protect yourself from all these things is to wash your hands, but you have to do it the right way.

"General rules of thumb is you should wash your hands long enough to sing the alphabet song," Franklin said.

If you do that, and use anti-bacterial sanitizer when you absolutely can't get to a sink, you should be in fairly good shape. That is, unless you are immune compromised or have an open wound.

"You're skin really is the best defense against any type of infection. So, as long as you don't have any scrapes on your skin and don't touch your hands to mouth or eyes which are the two normal ways infections get in the body, then you're as careful as you can be and you're being cautious and that's what's important," Franklin said.

Because of time and resource constraints, Dr. Masuoka was limited in how detailed he could be in identifying the bacteria. The information was based on a general observation in his expert opinion.

If you'd like to learn more about how to stop the spread of germs click here to go the website for the Centers for Disease Control .