You may start your day at the ATM, getting some cash. You touch the screen and the press the keypad, and don't think anything of it. Then it's on to the ticket machine to get a MetroCard or ticket, touching another screen, then up the escalator while you are holding the handrail. Germs, germs, germs: they are everywhere.
We went around New York swabbing for coliform on places you touch every day: gas pumps, escalators, elevator buttons, taxi cab screens, ATMs, escalators, ticket machines. What we found may surprise you.
Thirty percent of the cultures showed fecal contamination, said Dr. Philip Tierno, the director of clinical microbiology at NYU Langone Medical Center, who cultured the specimens.
"Where you find evidence of feces you may in a certain number of tested places find a pathogen that may make you sick," Tierno said.
Our results found E. coli on the ticket machines screens and keypads in Grand Central, Penn Station, and Union Square.
There was more E. coli at ATMs in Penn Station, Port Authority, and in Union Square.
Even though we didn't find E. coli on taxicab screens, we did find environmental organisms such as bacillus, micrococcus, rhodococcus, mucor, and a fungus.
There is some good news to report. We swabbed the Manhattan Mall escalator and the Port Authority elevator, and they both came up clean.
While we didn't test for the flu virus, everyplace you do touch you leave your germs and you may be picking up someone else's.
"80 percent of all infections are transmitted by contact--direct and indirect," Tierno said. "Direct like coughing, kissing, sneezing; indirect like touching a surface that has been touched by somebody previously, then touching your mouth, eyes and nose."
Tierno, the author of "The Secret Life of Germs," said that germs can last hours or even up to a day on some surfaces, so places that you frequently touched pose the greatest risk.
"That's why we say that when you enter your office or your home wash your hands," Tierno said. "You've touched a lot of surfaces, you have been in a lot of places, and washing your hands goes a long way towards protecting your health."