Your handbag may be making you sick

Though handbags may not kill people, they have the potential of making them very sick. VERA ONANA writes about the bacteria that may be present on women’s handbags, their health risk and how people can be protected from such sickness-inducing bacteria that often colonises handbags. 


T HE average woman is a lover of handbags. Whether leather, fabric, big, small…they come in different colours and most women are ready to pay designers a fortune to own the very best piece. Since handbags are an important part of the accessories that completes a woman’s looks, they are almost inseparable from their owners who carry them everywhere. However, these bags may go to places that make them a serial source of contamination and consequently, a health risk.

Women carry their handbags everywhere. From offices to market places, public toilets, bathroom floors, kitchen counters, the floor of buses and cars, to name a few. Women’s hand bags often find themselves sitting in the dirtiest of dirty places. Yet instead of super sanitising them, they are simply picked back up, spreading the germs they pick.

Ironically, while every woman knows what is inside her bag, do they have an idea of what is outside that same bag and the effect that dropping their bag on any surface, anywhere could have on handbags?

Research has shown that women’s handbags are contaminated with more bacteria than the average toilet.

In 2014, a group of researchers investigated the safety of ladies handbags and their findings were published in the Journal of Biology and Medicine. Their research which was titled “How Safe Ladies Hand Bags Are: A Microbiological View” had the sole objective of identifying bacteria growth in handbags.

The research revealed that a wide range of both Gram positive and negative bacteria were isolated from the handbags. These included Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella typhi, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumonia, Proteus mirabilis and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Adewale Adekunle, a microbiologist, at the Department of Microbiology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State explained the health implications of the bacteria identified by the researchers. “Most of the bacteria identified by the researchers are gram negative bacilli which belong to the family enterobacteriaceae. This includes E. coli, Klebsiella pneumonia, Salmonella typhi and Proteus mirabilis. Staphylococcus aureus is a gram positive cocci and Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a gram negative bacilli but belongs to a different family called pseudomonodaceae.

“In microbiology, E. coli is considered a coliform, which is an indicator of feacal contamination. The presence of E.coli on handbags points suggested that there has been a recent feacal contamination of the bag (contamination with feaces).

“This germ  is capable of causing gastrointestinal diseases which affect the gastrointestinal tract with symptoms like pain, heartburn, abdominal distension, nausea, vomiting bloating, constipation and diarrhea.

“Salmonella typhi is the bacteria responsible for typhoid fever and isolating it from the hand bags means that the bags could be capable of inflicting typhoid on the persons that gets exposed to the bacteria from the bag. Both bacteria are very significant in food poisoning and water borne diseases and can induce symptoms like fever, diarrhea, vomiting and headache.

“Staphylococcus aureus is the bacterium that is responsible for skin rashes, eye and skin infections and sometimes serious skin boils. So, the presence of this bacterium on a woman’s hand bag exposes not just her but anyone that comes in contact with the bacterium from the bag to skin infections.”

Adekunle added that these bacteria could be spread from the carrier to others in a process known as cross-contamination by carelessly dropping the contaminated bags on important surfaces. “Sometimes, women come back from work and just drop their handbags on the kitchen counter and few minutes later, they prepare a vegetable salad on the same counter. Also, the contaminated bag can be carelessly dropped on the dining table and a child may pick up food pieces from the table and eat. That is simply how bacteria spread to other members of the family and makes people sick. Sometimes, they drop the bacteria-rife handbags on the bed, unknowingly introducing germs to the bedsheets.”

The microbiologist, however, gave pieces of advice that would help keep handbags free of such sickness-inducing bacteria.

“Women must strive to avoid dropping their handbags on contaminated surfaces like public toilet floor, restaurant tables and floors and several other dirty places like the floor of the car. Also, it is important that the bases of handbags are regularly sanitised with antibacterial agents. The leather bags can be cleaned while the cloth bags properly washed with disinfectants and sun dried. This will reduce the bacterial load if not totally eradicate the bacteria.”