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Women Beware!
Your Purses Could be Making You Sick

The first order of business after returning home from a day at the office or out shopping is to plop down your purse (or briefcase), often on the kitchen counter or table. Your kids do it too, with their backpack or lunchbox.

purse germs

Your purse is your trusty standby, but it may also be acting as a "subway for germs," picking up bacteria wherever you leave it, then transporting them directly into your home.

This simple action that most of us do without giving it a thought could be a major source of exposure to germs, bacteria, viruses and other organisms that could make you and your family sick, according to recent research into what's really clinging to your purse.

Millions of Bacteria ... on Your Purse?

Chuck Gerba, a microbiologist with the University of Arizona, used a hand-held germ meter to test how much bacteria was being carried around on women's purses. Purses, after all, are indispensable for most women, and go with them from the car to the office to the bathroom to the grocery store and everywhere in between.

After testing swabs of 10 women's purses for ABC News, Gerba found:

  • At least some bacteria on every purse

  • Most purses had tens of thousands of bacteria

  • A few purses contained millions of bacteria

  • One purse was covered with 6.7 million bacteria

  • Five purses tested positive for coliform bacteria, which could mean that human or animal waste was present

How do these amounts compare to what's normal? According to health experts, readings above 200, which indicate thousands of bacteria present, are high enough to be worried about.

"We found fecal bacteria you normally find on the floor of a restroom," Gerba said. "We found bacteria that can cause skin infections on the bottom of purses. What's more amazing is the large numbers we find on the bottom of purses, which indicates that they can be picking up a lot of other germs like cold viruses or viruses that cause diarrhea."

Another study by Gerba and colleagues that tested dozens of women's purses found equally disturbing results: 30 percent were coated with fecal bacteria, and some purses turned out to be 100 times dirtier than an average toilet seat.

The worst area of the purses turned out to be, as you might suspect, the bottom.

"The bottoms of women's purses are pretty bad," Gerba says. "About 25 percent have fecal bacteria because women put it down on the toilet floor in restrooms."

purses and disease and germs

Instead of setting your purse on the ground, keep it slung over your shoulder or on a hook/chair back whenever possible.

Easy Transportation for Germs

Purses are particularly risky because they travel to so many locations. Women put them on the floor everywhere -- in the bathroom, restaurants, the subway, under their desk at work -- then think nothing of leaving them on the kitchen counter, a centerpoint for many family activities.

"It matters because you can move germs that can cause illness from one location to another," said Gerba. "You can later touch that purse and get them on your hands, or you could put your purse near a food preparation area and transfer germs to areas you may touch during food preparation."

Clean Your Purse to a Microscopic Level with PerfectClean

The PerfectClean terry cloths' ultramicrofibers are naturally positively charged, while contaminants are negatively charged.

That means that wet or dry, and unlike the old common types of rags that simply spread microscopic contaminants around when you wipe with them, PerfectClean terry cloths hold fast to everything they pick up!

Tuck one in your purse and give it a wipe anytime you think it may have touched an unclean surface.

Find out More About PerfectClean Terry Cloth Wipes Now!

If purses are capable of transporting germs, it would be logical to assume that briefcases and your child's backpack and lunchbox would also be good transporters.

How to Avoid as Many Germs as Possible

While you can't totally germ-proof yourself or your family (and it's not necessary to do so, as only a small fraction of the organisms out there are capable of making you sick), experts agree that using some common-sense approaches can reduce your exposure.

"I don't think you would come home and put your shoes on your kitchen counter," said Benton Middleman, medical director of Baylor Garland Medical Center's pathology department. "So I think you have to use some common sense."

Ideas to keep your purse (briefcase, lunchbox, backpack) as germ-free as possible include:

  • Wipe down your purse, briefcase, backpack and child's lunchboxes (inside and out) with PerfectClean ultramicrofiber terry cloths. These cloths have patented built-in antimicrobial protection and are made of ultramicrofibers that are only 3 microns in size, which is even smaller than many bacteria. They pick up anything in their path, down to those contaminants that cannot be seen with the naked eye! Plus, they can be used wet or dry, so they won't harm your purse.

  • Have your purse dry-cleaned occasionally.

  • Don't put your purse on the floor, anywhere. Hang it on the back of your chair in a restaurant, use the hooks provided in bars and restrooms, stash it in a desk drawer at work, and if all else fails, leave it in your lap or slung over your shoulder.

  • Keep your purse/briefcase in an out-of-the-way spot at home, such as in a closet. Do not place it on the kitchen counter or table, or anywhere food may be placed.

  • Teach your child not to put his or her backpack on the table or kitchen counter.

  • Wash backpacks regularly according to their care instructions, and wash your child's lunchbox as soon as he or she brings it home from school.

Recommended Reading

Just How Germ-Infested are the Hotel Rooms You Stay In? What are the Risks?

The Nine Grossest Things Other People Do That Can Make You Sick

Sources November 6, 2006

ABC News

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