Your purse is your trusty standby, but it may also be acting as a "subway for germs," picking up bacteria wherever you leave it, then transporting them directly into your home.


This simple action that most of us do without giving it a thought could be a major source of exposure to germs, bacteria, viruses and other organisms that could make you and your family sick, according to recent research into what's really clinging to your purse.


Chuck Gerba, a microbiologist with the University of Arizona, used a hand-held germ meter to test how much bacteria was being carried around on women's purses. Purses, after all, are indispensable for most women, and go with them from the car to the office to the bathroom to the grocery store and everywhere in between.


After testing swabs of 10 women's purses for ABC News, Gerba found:

  • At least some bacteria on every purse
  • Most purses had tens of thousands of bacteria
  • A few purses contained millions of bacteria
  • One purse was covered with 6.7 million bacteria
  • Five purses tested positive for coliform bacteria, which could mean that human or animal waste was present


How do these amounts compare to what's normal? According to health experts, readings above 200, which indicate thousands of bacteria present, are high enough to be worried about. "We found fecal bacteria you normally find on the floor of a restroom," Gerba said. "We found bacteria that can cause skin infections on the bottom of purses. What's more amazing is the large numbers we find on the bottom of purses, which indicates that they can be picking up a lot of other germs like cold viruses or viruses that cause diarrhea."


Another study by Gerba and colleagues that tested dozens of women's purses found equally disturbing results with 30 percent were coated with fecal bacteria, and some purses turned out to be 100 times dirtier than an average toilet seat. The worst area of the purses turned out to be, as you might suspect, the bottom. "The bottoms of women's purses are pretty bad," Gerba says. "About 25 percent have fecal bacteria because women put it down on the toilet floor in restrooms."


As a word of advice, instead of setting your purse on the ground, keep it slung over your shoulder or on a hook/chair back whenever possible.