Study IDs dirtiest surfaces in U.S.

Gas pumps, mailboxes top the list

A new study that analyzed "germ hotspots" in six U.S. metropolitan areas identified which commonly touched surfaces are teeming with the most illness-causing bacteria.

For the study—which was conducted by the University of Arizona and the Kimberly-Clark Professional's Healthy Work Place Project—hygienists swabbed 350 of the most frequently touched surfaces in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, and Philadelphia.

The researchers then tested the swabs' ATP levels, which indicate contamination by animal, vegetable, bacteria, yeast, and mold cells. Objects that had an ATP reading of 300 or higher were deemed to have an increased risk of illness transmission.

The results showed that the following surfaces had high levels of contamination:

  • 71% of gas pump handles;
  • 68% of mailbox handles;
  • 43% of escalator rails;
  • 41% of ATM buttons;
  • 40% of parking meters and kiosks;
  • 35% of crosswalk buttons; and 
  • 35% of vending machine buttons.

Charles Gerba, professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, said the tests underscore the importance of maintaining good hand hygiene, noting that many people do not realize how many germs they are exposed to when they travel to and from work (Paddock, Medical News Today, 10/25; Selyukh, Reuters, 10/25; Lynch, "Nation Now," Los Angeles Times, 10/25; UPI, 10/25). 

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