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A woman's purse.

How germy is your purse?

You carry it with you almost everywhere — restaurants, grocery stores and public restrooms, to name a few — but just how germy is your purse? Researchers have found several forms of bacteria on purses, particularly on the straps. Bacteria can transfer onto your bag after you pick up germs from a contaminated surface — such as a restroom door handle — then touch your purse.

“Bacteria that cause common infections — such as staphylococcus, micrococcus, bacillus and enterococcus— can colonize on handbags,” says Michelle Jones, M.D., an infectious disease physician at Piedmont.

These bacteria can lead to staph infections, septic shock, meningitis, ear infections, urinary tract infections and more.

Think about it: When you are out shopping, you touch dozens of surfaces, including credit card machines, cash, elevator buttons and doors. Since some bacteria can live on surfaces for hours, some of the germs you pick up on your hands can easily transfer to your handbag.

“Money and wallets can be very dirty,” says Dr. Jones. “And the credit card machines, door handles and countertops you touch likely aren’t being cleaned frequently.”

No need to stress out, though: Not all bacteria cause illness. And you can protect yourself from disease-causing germs by:

  • Practicing good hand hygiene. It’s especially important to clean your hands before you touch your eyes, mouth, nose, ears or anywhere else on your face. Besides the obvious — washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the bathroom and before eating — Dr. Jones suggests cleaning your hands periodically throughout the day. If you’re running errands, use hand sanitizer or wash your hands after every few stores you visit, for example.

  • Not placing your bag on the ground or floor whenever possible. Bathroom floors are notoriously germy, so hang your bag on a hook or keep it on your shoulder if there isn’t one handy.

  • Having a landing spot for your purse when you get home. Try the hall table or a hook in your entryway. Avoid setting your bag on your bed or kitchen counter, where it could spread illness-causing bacteria.

  • Not stowing certain items in your bag. Shoes and food can provide a breeding ground for bacteria inside your purse. If you carry a pair of shoes in your bag, place them in a plastic grocery bag first. And keep your snacks, such as that apple you don’t plan to re-wash, in well-sealed zip-top bags or containers.

  • Cleaning your bag occasionally. Dr. Jones suggests giving your purse a wipe-down at least once a month with cleaning wipes designed for your bag’s material (e.g., leather-safe wipes if you have a leather bag). If you carry a cloth bag, toss it in the washing machine and dry it thoroughly to kill germs.

“The most important take-home message isn’t to become obsessive about sterilizing your bag,” says Dr. Jones. “The average person with a healthy immune system doesn’t need to worry as much as someone with a weakened immune system. You just need to be judicious about hand hygiene: washing your hands and using hand sanitizer.”

Check out more health tips to help you stay well.  

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