We gave my daughter’s friend a lift to school. “Do you ever clean your car?” he asked her later.
“We have better things to do,” replied my daughter. My, was I proud. But this week, research commissioned by Confused.com found that the nation’s cars are “a breeding ground for bugs and dangerous bacteria”. Microbiologists from Nottingham University took swabs from steering wheels, foot wells and seats and put them on agar plates to see what grew.
They found E coli liberally sprinkled around. The actual frequency of E coli and other bugs wasn’t available in reports of this research, but other studies have found between 283 and 700 bacteria per sq cm in the average car. This compares with an average of 500 bacteria per sq cm on a public toilet.
A study by Charles P Gerba, a celebrity microbiologist, partly due to his fearless discovery of poo in all sorts of places (including on “bags for life” used for shopping), found greater numbers of bacteria in cars that carried children, and in places where drink or food had been spilt – because spillages provide food for bacteria. Surveys show that 70% of drivers eat or drink in their cars.
Other bugs found in cars, such as Bacillus cereus (brought in with the soil on shoes or on pets’ feet), can cause food poisoning-type symptoms of cramps and diarrhoea. The Confused.com research also found that only 16% of parents clean the interior of their cars weekly – and only 9% of those without children (who arguably have cleaner cars anyway). Who knows if they do it properly and use disinfectant? So, should you clean your car more often?
Of course we should keep our cars clean, if only because it is embarrassing not to and reduces its value. But do not imagine you are sitting in an agar plate of vicious microbes every time you belt up. Professor Nigel Brown, president of the Society for General Microbiology, says that he has never heard of someone getting infected from the surfaces of cars. It is, he says, a theoretical possibility but most people have healthy immune systems and can brush off a few microbes. We are, he says, forever surrounded by micro-organisms.
This does not mean we should stop caring about cleanliness. Washing hands after the toilet, for example, is effective in not spreading germs onto food. But in toilets, the bugs are fresh – E coli can’t survive on car surfaces. Our car was finally cleaned this week (four people took two hours in the supermarket car park), but bacteria are so ubiquitous that it is probably teeming with bugs again already.
Originally created from here.