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Germs hiding in your hand towels

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We know the world is full of germs, but we don't like it when they invade our homes.

However, a world-renowned germ expert found millions of potentially disease-causing microbes in one of the most private rooms in the house.

When we think about germs that can hurt us, it's the one spot we might not think enough about - the bathroom. And not where you might think.

Not the toilet. Not the bath. We're referring to your hand towel.

"We thought towels were very dry, there wouldn't be a lot of bacteria. We thought we'd have a hard time finding them, but they were jumping out at us actually there were so many in there," says Dr. Charles Gerba, a University of Arizona microbiologist.

Gerba is always looking for where germs are hiding, and his new study shows once again they're where we would least expect.

"Eww. Gross. It is gross," says Donetta Welker after hearing Gerba has found millions of germs on bathroom hand towels.

Her friend, Georgene Kitterman, asks, "In my bathroom at home? Yeah, that does surprise me, because I am careful about washing my hands all the time."

And in some homes, that could be part of the problem: Not washing well enough.

"So just think about it. You wash your hands and you dry it in the towel and then maybe you had some E. coli or salmonella on there and they get into the towel. It's wet. It's moist. They grow," Gerba says. "You may start out with a few, but in a few days you've got millions."

What kinds of germs?

"We tested 500 towels from across the United States and Canada," Gerba says. "Actually they're loaded with fecal bacteria. E. coli are very common in high numbers. And in some towels we even found salmonella bacteria."

Donetta Welker sees another big problem there. "Gross. Because I use my hand towel to dry my face off," she says. And she's not the only one.

"So really every time you think you're wiping your face off, you're putting your face in a towel full of E. coli. You might as well stick your head in a toilet and flush it," Gerba says.

If that's not bad enough, Gerba tested brand new towels, thinking to use them as a control group.

It didn't work. He found fecal bacteria there, too.

Brand new towels?

"Brand new towels," he says. "Yeah, that you get at the store. That's what we did and we found them in there. We were surprised. Apparently, even when they wash them and dry them after manufacture, they still get coliform bacteria in them."

"It didn't shock me at all," says Charles Strauss. "But you know there's probably some people that believe that everything comes out of their dryers fine."

So Gerba says we might want to look at changing our habits, maybe even using paper towels in the bathroom.

But if you do prefer cloth towels, he recommends washing them in very hot water, and using bleach or a bleach substitute.

He found hot water and detergent are not enough.

And, change the towels more frequently.

Gerba says, "What we've learned is you probably should change them on a regular basis -- maybe every two or three days. You let them go a week and there's large numbers, millions of bacteria inside of that towel."

As Dr. Gerba says, we live with germs all around us, so there's no need to panic. It's just a good idea to be aware.

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