'GMA' Germ Test Shows Some Public Seats Full of Bacteria

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The Results Are In

Even though our rental car had only 714 miles on it, our tests revealed hundreds of E. coli colonies.

Another germy one? A bench in the middle of San Francisco's Union Square.

There was staph on a movie theater seat, which can cause devastating infections.

My airplane seat was bad, but the airport lounge was worse. After all, thousands of travelers share it. There were organisms indicating fecal matter, E. coli and yeast.

"Where you find this number of organisms it means nobody's worried about cleaning anything here," Tierno said.

So the next time somebody tells you to please have a seat, keep your hands to yourself.

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Test Results

For our latest "GMA germ test," we tested for bacteria on public seats. When we heard that BART commuter train seats in the San Francisco Bay Area had recently tested positive for all sorts of bacteria, our first reaction was "yuck!" Our second reaction was, I wonder if it's just BART or if all public seats are germ factories? So we decided to travel from The East Coast to San Francisco to visit BART and test every seat we sat in along the way.

Here's a table showing what types of seats we tested and how they did.

The Not-So-Bad Seats: These seats contained low bacteria counts and/or harmless bacteria that will not make you sick.

My driver's seat
New York City taxi seat
San Francisco restaurant seat
Hotel lobby seat
Hotel room seat
BART seat
Toilet seat

The SO-Bad Seats: These seats contained high bacteria counts, including E Coli. (The strains of E. coli we found are not the deadly type, but are an indicator of the presence of fecal matter.)

Movie theater seat
Airport lounge seat
Airplane seat
Rental car seat
Park bench

How to Handle Germs on Public Seats

When we tested a dozen different kinds of public seats on a trip from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, we discovered that more than half contained traces of fecal matter and nearly a third were positive for E. coli. That raises some universal questions.

Q: How can I prevent illness from the germs on public seats?

A: Luckily, we don't lick seats. We sit on seats, so the real cross contamination point is our hands. For that, the solution is simple: Wash your hands thoroughly after you sit in a public seat, especially before eating. If you don't have access to soap and water, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer solution is effective in killing germs.

Q: What about if my clothing or my bag touch public seats?

A: It's a good idea to avoid sitting on your bed and anywhere else you want to keep extra clean after sitting in a public seat. And if you placed your purse or backpack on the seat, then you won't want to put it on your kitchen or bathroom counter -- or other places that you need to keep sanitary.

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