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Modern conveniences breed more germs

Netflix is convenient for TV and film enthusiasts who prefer to watch in the comfort of their own homes. But have you ever thought about what else is on those discs…or the sleeves they come in?

Countless hands have touched them before they ever made it to your mailbox. And then there's the touch-screen station at the grocery store…ever thought about what bacteria might be lurking on there?

"You can go around touching toilet seats all day and not come into contact with as many fecal bacteria as a touch screen has in a grocery store," says Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona.

Do we really keep our bathrooms cleaner than some of the most common objects we touch?

"Over half [of the touch screens we tested] had fecal bacteria on them," continues Gerba. "We found E. coli on several of them. We found MRSA, which causes skin infection, on another one. Interestingly enough, in non-grocery store situations, like hardware stores and that, we didn't find as many bacteria."

But before you get too grossed out by the grocer, Gerba does offer a likely explanation for the higher germ count.

"Our study suggests that people are picking a lot of them up probably on raw food products, although MRSA probably is coming from other people," he says.

As consumers, we love convenience. Apparently, so do our germs.

Let's go back to Netflix. In six films that were delivered – six discs swabbed and tested – four types of bacteria showed up.

"They were fairly clean," says Dr. Richard Wallace, an infectious disease specialist. "If I took my fingers and laid them on the top of the [testing] plates, this is what you'd grow. My biggest concern for these would be the community MRSA that people pick up."

The mailing sleeves were also tested and proved to be as contaminated or more so than the discs. But Dr. Wallace says that's a pretty good outcome compared to other commonly used items that could be heavily contaminated.


"We're in contact with more germs and different people than ever before in history because we're sharing so much more space, just like touch screens," says Gerba.

And to keep from sharing all those germs: "Use a disinfectant wipe on the shopping cart, especially if you have small children," he advises. "Use a hand sanitizer after you use these touch screens. And when you get home, wash your grocery bags once in a while, if they're reusable."

Dr. Gerba is quick to assure people not to become paranoid, but rather more aware of what's out there. He says that you can reduce your risk of getting sick by nearly 50 percent by simply keeping your hands clean and washing them on a regular basis.

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