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What's in your handbag - Study shows that items inside a woman's purse are covered with more bacteria than a toilet seat - Ogden Clinic provided source, Standard-Examiner 06/18/2013

(Standard-Examiner) Look inside your handbag. What do you see?

During a walk through the Newgate Mall recently, several women who checked inside their handbags reported the following items: wallet, keys, phone, chewed-up gum, wrappers, receipts, a piece of candy out of its wrapper, toothpicks, bobby pins, ponytail holders, granola bar, lip gloss, mascara, a toy, fruit rollups, sunglasses, an orange, pens, Chapstick, lotion, stamps, tampons, medication, comb, flashlight, nail file, a chewed-up straw, and yes, even a shoe.

Those were the items that could be seen. But what about the unseen items?

A new study by Initial Washroom Hygiene Solutions shows that much of the stuff women carry around in their bags is covered in germs, some of which have more bacteria than a toilet seat.

“OK, well, that’s disgusting,” said Kylee Arave. “I think I’m going to throw everything in the garbage now, including my purse.”

Olivia Delgado said she, too, was disgusted.

“That’s gross,” she said. “I’ve got hand sanitizer in there, too. Maybe I should pour it into my purse.”

But the outside of the hand sanitizer is also covered in germs, according to the study. Fruit, lip gloss, mascara, lotion and cellphones also top the list of some of the worst offenders. And if you have a leather bag, that’s even worse. The spongy texture is the ideal breeding ground for germs to multiply.

The most common germs you will find inside purses and handbags include E. coli, staph and Klebsiella (a bacteria that can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, wound or surgical-site infections, and meningitis), said Elisabeth Anderson, a physician assistant at the Ogden Clinic.

“These germs primarily make their way into handbags from a woman’s hands,” Anderson said. “Women also tend to place their purses on bathroom floors and other unsanitary places without thinking about the germs lurking in those areas.”

Poor hand-washing practices can also lead to germs being deposited in a handbag, she said.

The most common illnesses associated with handbag germs tend to be gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, Anderson said. Some women can also develop urinary tract infections, and staph can pose a significant problem in many people.

“Everyone already has staph on their skin, but if it penetrates into the skin and gets into the bloodstream, it can cause more serious illness,” she said.

So, why do some items, such as cellphones, attract more germs than others?

“Many believe that cellphones actually have more germs on them than toilet seats do because toilet seats get washed more frequently,” Anderson said. “The biggest problem with cellphones is the increased risk of staph infections ... and if you share your phone with others, you are more prone to this problem.”

Unwrapped food also poses a significant risk because there’s no barrier between the food and germs.

And if you think setting your purse down on the floor is OK, think again.

Researchers said the floor is just a friendly invitation for even more germs. Many women set their bags on the bathroom floor, pick them up, take them home and set them on the kitchen counter.

So, what’s the solution? Wash your hands, say the researchers, and wipe down the inside and outside of your bag, as well as its contents, at least once a week with antibacterial wipes.

“It is vital to wash your hands frequently and avoid placing your purse on the floor, no matter where you are,” Anderson said. “That includes restrooms, restaurants and even at home. Always use purse hooks or place the purse on the back of a chair. The bottom line is, if you’re going to eat off of it, you don’t want your purse on it.”