Hidden germs in the home: Watch where you sit

By Steven Cooper, Problem Solver, scooper@clickorlando.com
Published On: Nov 12 2012 11:56:20 PM EST
Updated On: Nov 13 2012 06:26:11 AM EST

The worst germs in the house might not be in the kitchen or bath; you might be sitting in them right now.

ORLANDO, Fla. -

Debbie Lacks does a lot of vacuuming.

"I have to vacuum every single day," she said.

You would too, in a house of two adults, two kids, and seven animals.

Across town, Karen Revels does a lot of cleaning, too, but never enough.

"The minute I do things to clean, the kids are right behind me, messing it up again," Revels said.

So, the invited guests, allergens from animals and germs from humans, really never leave either home.

Both women agree that their family-room couches get the most human and animal contact, and both women suspect that their couches are the most overlooked areas when it comes to cleaning.  Local 6 asked Debbie and Karen permission to swab and vacuum their couches to see if, in fact, they're breeding grounds for germs or have contaminants that cause illness. Both families have allergy sufferers.  Nervously, Debbie and Karen agreed to the tests.

Local 6 took the samples to EMSL, a lab where Dr. Blanca Cortes ran them through several tests for allergens, molds, and bacteria.

Cortes found three types of bacteria on Karen's couch, including a low count of Pseudonomas not aureaus. It's a bacteria that's typically found in hot tubs and can eat through blood.

"It can give you some nasty infections," Dr. Cortes said.  She explained that the infections caused by Pseudonomas are very resistant to antibiotics.

Karen's couch was also hiding 50 colonies of Acinetobacter Schlinderi, which Cortes says, can cause life-threatening infections to someone with a compromised immune system.

As for molds, Karen's couch is home to Aspergillus versicolor which, if your immune system is bad, is very bad.

"Aspergillus is very dangerous," said Cortes.  "It goes into the lungs.  The mold can continue to breed inside you.  This couch need some protection."

There is some good news for the Revels' household: the animal and dust allergen count was virtually non-existent.

That was not the same story at the Lacks' household, where the tests showed moderate cat allergens which pose a risk of bronchial problems, and a high risk of dog allergens which can trigger asthma attacks. 

As for bacteria, Debbie's couch was thriving with Sphingomonas sp. which can cause infections.  Those infections are treatable with antibiotics, but the normal level for Sphingomonas is about 250 colonies; Debbie's couch had 30 million colonies.

"That's disgusting," she says.

Most of the contaminants that EMSL found were soil based, the kind of substances that people track in from outdoors, or come through open windows.   The germs are most dangerous to children, the elderly, or anyone whose immune system is already threatened.

Cortes explained that it's not uncommon for germs to linger on household surfaces, including furniture, and make people sick.  People who get ill, however, rarely attribute their germs to their furniture.  At least two local moms will now look twice at their couches, however,  the next someone in their family comes down with the sniffles.

To prevent germs from building up on furniture, spray or wipe the furniture with upholstery-safe germicide.  Try steam-cleaning if it doesn't damage surfaces or fabrics.  Keep the relative humidity in your home between 55 and 60 percent.

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