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ATM keypads 'infested with bacteria' - study

Published: 5:59AM Thursday April 19, 2012 Source: Fairfax

ATM keypads are one of the most germ-infested surfaces in Auckland city - much worse than public toilets, a new study has found.

In an effort to find the city's dirtiest hotspots, 48 sites across the CBD and Ponsonby were inspected.

The Janola study found public telephones, public toilets, table tops in public eating places and train ticket self-serve screens also carried unusually high amounts of bacteria.

The sites were tested using a hygiene monitoring device, which measures the bacteria in Relative Light Units (RLU).

Bacteria counts on ATM keypads recorded the highest bacteria count with an average RLU reading of 1271. It was closely followed by public telephones (1214), public toilets (1184), table tops in public eating spaces (1097) and train ticket self-serve screens (800).

A reading of 10-200 is considered good enough to eat off, 300-400 means it's time for a clean, 500-plus is considered unsafe to eat off while 600 and above equates to their being an infestation of bacteria present.

"The results from this study are quite high, but aren't surprising in my line of work. More often than not it's the visibly clean and inconspicuous areas that have the most startling results," said Dr Charles Gerba, a global infection control expert, who is visiting Auckland this week.

"With this in mind I wouldn't recommend touching your face after coming into contact with any of the sites tested. Especially if you have a weak immune system."

And while public spaces are obvious hotspots, the home can also harbour plenty of dirt.

The toilet is an obvious culprit, but Gerba says chopping boards, cleaning cloths and even reusable shopping bags are a hot bed of bacteria. Your desk at work, supermarkets, laundromats and mobile phones are also teeming with germs.

Gerba, dubbed Dr Germ, will visit Auckland on Thursday in an effort to highlight how to eliminate and avoid major germ spots.

He recommends using anti-bacterial wipes to clean public surfaces before using them.