See how your car can make you sick

Usually, when it comes to running away from germs and bacteria-infected surfaces, people are wont to think of toilets as the headquarters of such, thus, they exercise extreme care when going there.

It is even more so when it comes to using public toilet. For some people, especially women, using public toilet is a no-go-area, because of the fear of being infected, but for those who use it, they do it with absolute suspicion and care, for obvious reasons.

Yes, toilet areas can breed germs and bacteria, but unknown to many, the interior of a car could also breed the kind of germs and bacteria that could be injurious to human health.

Previously, a study by a company in the United Kingdom had pointed out that there are many everyday items, including toothbrush, sponge, pillow, chopping board in the kitchen, that are dirtier or carry higher germs and bacteria than the toilet seat.

But in another shocking report by some scientists, the interior of a car could have as many germs that could be harmful to the owner and others. Thus, it is very possible to come across clean (and even exotic) cars that would be very appealing to the eyes, but would have unkempt and germs-ridden interiors, due to their usage.

From findings, people generally see the interior of their cars as very clean and germs-free, such that they don’t even bother washing it, especially people who use their air conditioning system regularly. Such people feel that as long as their windows are up all the time and there would be no dust, the only part that should be washed is the exterior and maybe the engine. Thus, they feel free to put food items anywhere, including the car seat and dashboard.

However, according to a study by some microbiologists in Aston University, Birmingham, United Kingdom and car insurers,, the interior of a typical vehicle has bacteria that could make the owners and every person that comes in contact with it to fall ill.

The areas that were identified to harbour these germs and bacteria include car seats, knobs, control buttons, plane surfaces, steering wheel, gear sticks, seat belt, which is like home to dusts, and handles.

Specifically, an environmental microbiologist and leading author on germs, Prof. Charles Gerba, once said the bacteria that usually hide in car seats could make children sick with an ear infection or strep throat, leading to pains. Hence, people should wash their car seats “few times” in a month.

According to them, all that is required to keep the car interior clean is to clean those identified areas with sanitizers daily, wash them with soap and disinfectant regularly and if need be scrub them from time to time. The researchers found that, on the average, a typical vehicle has whopping 283 different types of bacteria present in every square centimetre, while the dirtiest part was found to be the gear stick, with 356 germs, which was found in every square centimetre. These could be from dust, dead insects and food particles.

Furthermore, they found that the car boot, where people usually keep their food items, could be very dangerous, because in one instance, a car boot had more than 850 bacteria present, due largely to leftovers and drops of liquid that were not properly washed off.

Giving a breakdown of the factors that influence the presence and volume of the germs, a report, reviewed on health24, showed that cars used to convey children and pets were found to be the most risky, in terms of bacteria. Also, married people were found to have more bacteria in their cars than those who are single.

Also, females were found to have more bacteria in their cars than males and cars used to transport children on a regular basis had more bacteria than those that carried only adults.

More importantly, the germs and bacteria were found to be very harmful to the system. One of the harmful bacteria found was Escherichia coli (known as E.coli), which lives in the digestive tracts of humans and animals.

Some species of E.coli are harmless, but there are some types that can cause bloody diarrhoea, urinary tract infections, severe anaemia or kidney failure which can lead to death eventually.

One of the researchers, Prof. Anthony Hilton, who is Aston University’s Director of Biology & Biomedical Science, said the presence of E.coli could also indicate the presence of other harmful bacteria, like Salmonella.

He said, “Whilst most of the bacteria we’ve found are unlikely to cause serious health problems, some cars, particularly those which regularly carry children and animals, play host to potentially harmful germs. And these germs are capable of surviving on surfaces inside cars for up to a month.

“People would be horrified at the thought of eating off their toilet seat, but few realise eating off their car dashboard is just as likely to make them sick.”

In some other reports, which an environmental scientist, Jessica Shaw, was a part of, it was also shown that the interior of a car could have 17,000 times more bacteria than the home and that, specifically, the cup holder has 228 per cent more bacteria than a toilet seat.

In yet another study by some other scientists, the interior of a car, especially handbrakes and gear sticks, was found to be 50 per cent dirtier than computer keyboards and 2,144 per cent filthier than people’s smartphones. The dashboard was also found to have large number of bacteria, and these were found to be harmful to the health and could make people, especially children, sick.

A hygiene and public health expert doctor, Dr. Lisa Ackerley, in her reaction on Mail Online, said drivers were usually unhygienic in their cars by failing to clean the interiors regularly.

She said all sorts of bacteria and viruses could get into cars which could linger on the steering wheel, gear stick, seats and other surfaces, allowing them to be passed on to passengers and other drivers of the car.

She said, “When you think of all the unhygienic things you see people doing whilst driving – picking their noses, coughing all over the steering wheel and eating food – we really ought to be cleaning the insides of our cars more, particularly the hand contact surfaces.

“People may be amazed that germs can be passed from human to human via everyday surfaces, especially when they use same hand they had placed on the germ-ridden dashboard or gear sticks to put food in their mouth or touch their noses.”

Meanwhile, findings have shown that the human activities that could breed these germs and bacteria in the car include:

Eating and drinking in the car: While it is understandable that people might want to eat or drink something while in the car, whether out of being famished, thirsty or for some other obvious reasons, this act has been shown to be one good way to breed germs and aid the growth of bacteria or mould in a car. Researchers found that the crumbs that drop on the chair, especially fabric material, or floor could eventually breed bacteria if not removed on time. They equally found that if sugary drinks pour on the floor, it could attract insects and if on the car seat, especially fabric; it could also breed bacteria as they tend to thrive in moist areas.

Refusal to disinfect the car interior regularly: One other human activity that helps to breed bacteria and germs is the refusal to clean the vehicle and rid it of dust and food particles. Experts have however advised that daily, people should use wipes (a special piece of wet material) to clean all surfaces, including dashboard, knobs, gear stick, handles and controls, so as to kill the germs and bacteria present. While at regular intervals, people should (thoroughly) wash, scrub the floors and doors of their vehicles and use disinfectants and sanitisers to clean the entire interior. Knowing that it could sometimes be inevitable for some to eat in the car, experts have advised that such people should always do comprehensive cleaning to remove the crumbs and then use wipes to clean the surface.

A clinical laboratory scientist, Prof. Donna Duberg, in his post on Beauty and Confidence, said people should keep sanitisers in their vehicles, because after touching things like the handle of a gas pump or buttons on the ATM, such person’s hands would be covered with germs. Thus, if they don’t clean their hands, they transfer it to the car’s interior, like steering wheel, knobs and controls, where other persons, including children, could have contact with it.


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