Bathrooms: the most germ-infested place at Kaneland? Think again

By on December 17, 2011

Photo: Amber Winquist-Bailey demonstrates what biology students do when they swab for bacteria. Photo by Delaney Stryczek

by Bryanna Stoiber
MAPLE PARK—Brin Wilk doesn’t consider herself a germophobe; however, small gestures some people make during lunch can really set her off.

“I don’t like the idea of someone else’s saliva touching my food,” Wilk said.

But the areas with the highest levels of bacteria at Kaneland are not the bathrooms, as many would expect.

According to science teacher Jennifer O’Hara, some of the most germ-infested places at Kaneland include wrestling mats and cell phones.

Biology students conduct tests every year to determine which areas have the most bacteria. O’Hara said that some of the places students swab are bathrooms, doorknobs, lockers, drinking fountains, railings and keyboards.

“The surprisingly clean areas at the school are the bathrooms and drinking fountains, because they are cleaned daily,” O’Hara said.

Yet O’Hara cautioned that the bacteria aren’t necessarily dangerous.

“Just because there’s a lot of bacteria on something doesn’t mean that it can be harmful bacteria,” O’Hara said.

Nationwide, the places with the most germs are also often unexpected places, a new study by the Kimberly Clark Healthy Workplace Project showed.

A team of hygienists swabbed hundreds of surfaces around six U.S. cities to see what everyday objects are breeding grounds for bacteria.

The most germ-infested places nationwide included gas pumps, mailbox handles, escalator rails and ATM buttons.

“It comes down to the fact that nobody cleans the things that you’re going to touch on a daily basis,” said Dr. Kelly Arehart, program leader of Kimberly-Clark’s Healthy Workplace Project.

Other highly contaminated areas around the U.S. include parking meters, kiosks, cross-walk buttons and vending machine buttons. Bathrooms didn’t even make the list.

The testers evaluated the swabs of the surfaces for levels or adenosine triphosphate, which indicates what kind of bacteria it is.

The results released by a Kimberly-Clark study show that more than 60 percent of gas pumps and mailbox handles and more than 40 percent of escalator rails and ATM machine buttons can be highly contaminated, potentially exposing people to illness-causing bacteria.

“People do not realize the amount of contamination they are exposed when going to work each day and doing everyday things like filling their gas tank or riding on an escalator,” Dr. Charles Gerba, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Arizona, said.

Between five percent and 20 percent of the U.S. population catches influenza each year.

Experts recommend frequent handwashing with soap and warm water as one of the best ways to avoid becoming ill.