The next time you are about to leave the bathroom without washing your hands, just think how much bacteria you might be carrying with you.

And try to imagine what that bacteria might look like on a petri dish after 24 hours in an incubator.

“There are germs everywhere. Some are good, some are bad,” said Kimberly Hernandez, epidemiology manager for Kern County Public Health Services. “Just because a person doesn’t cough on your face doesn’t mean you're not coming into contact with those germs everywhere.”

To help explain the risk of germs and bacteria being ever present in the lives of Kern County residents, Kern Public Health staged a bacterial show-and-tell for local reporters Wednesday, displaying bacterial samples taken from items brought in by the reporters as well as some surfaces from within the Public Health office.

The results didn’t look too pretty.

After taking samples from everyday items brought in by local reporters, Kern Public Health left the petri dishes in an incubator for 24 hours and then at room temperature for another 24 hours.

After two days, the petri dishes had developed fuzzy white dots and fungus-like growths. To the reporters who attended the event, it was hard to believe that samples taken from their water bottles, iPhones and even hands could produce so many bacteria.

“We wanted to talk about germs being all around us,” Hernandez said of the display. “Since we’re moving into cold and flu season, we just want to remind people to wash their hands as well as to wash lots of the items that you regularly touch that you don’t often think about.”

With flu season beginning around the first of October, the health department says it is becoming more important than ever to wash your hands and keep your everyday items clean.

“A lot of times we think, door handles, light switches, elevator buttons, but we forget about our own personal stuff that we take everywhere,” Hernandez said. “Our cell phones, our keys, our wallets, our purses. We take those everywhere and we rarely clean them.”

Influenza can live for up to 48 hours on a surface, Hernandez said, meaning someone can get sick with the flu without coming into contact with the person who infected them.

Norovirus, commonly known as stomach flu, can live for up to two weeks on a surface, making it imperative to keep surfaces and items clean.

The health department recommends washing hands for 20 seconds using soap and warm water.

For cleaning everyday items like a table or a phone, make sure to read the label on the cleaning product, according to the department. Some solutions need to be left on surfaces for a period of time in order to be effective.

The health department also recommends staying home when sick in order to protect those who might be affected by the germs you leave on the things you touch.

“A mild illness for a normally healthy person can be a really severe illness for somebody who is immunocompromised,” Hernandez said.

And don’t forget to clean those items that might not be immediately obvious. Jackets, backpacks, and even wallets could stand a good cleanse on a regular basis, the health department recommends.

“I think the dirtiest thing that people have are pens,” Hernandez said. “I never use public pens. I carry my own pen with me in my purse and I use that because how many people have touched the pen at the bank?”

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415 or smorgen@bakersfield.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.

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