New clothes, swarming with germs
In case you missed this disgusting news: Research conducted at the behest of TV's "Good Morning America" a couple of weeks ago revealed that new, store-bought clothes often are teeming with microbes, some too gross to think about.
Dr. Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center, tested new clothing from three stores, upscale and otherwise, and found them populated with all manner of bacteria, including those associated with feces, armpits and the vagina. The volume of bacteria in some instances suggested that the item of clothing had been tried on by many shoppers or even taken home, worn and returned to the store.
Talk about making your flesh crawl.
Before you panic or resolve to become a nudist, hear what Dr. Tierno told me over the phone yesterday. He points out that our bodies are naturally swarming with all kinds of microbes. But of the 60,000 known groups of germs, only about 1 percent to 2 percent (or 600 to 1,200 varieties) are pathogenic (or capable of causing illness).
Some pathogens are more easily transmitted than others, Tierno says. Norovirus, which causes gastrointestinal illness, "can live for several days on dry clothing," he explains. If a person had norovirus on her hands when trying on clothing and then returned the clothing to the rack, another person trying it on might touch her mouth or nose and introduce the virus to her own system.
Similarly, the staph bacteria known as MRSA can live on cotton clothing for six months, Tierno says. (Six months!) MRSA can be transmitted through direct or indirect contact with feces, the nose, the armpits or even the areola surrounding the nipple.
While all of this sounds repulsive and dangerous, Tierno says the risk of new clothes making you sick is "low -- and you can make it even lower." Washing your hands before you eat or touch your face, nose or mouth after trying on clothes is one way; wearing undergarments while trying on clothes is another (especially useful if you have an open cut or abrasion).
If you have a compromised immune system that makes you more vulnerable to infection, Tierno suggests washing new clothes before you wear them. (According to another report issued last fall, your washing machine may do more harm than good.)
I'm not much of a shopper to begin with (in part because I hate seeing makeup stains and smelling body odors on blouses I'm trying on). Still, I'm choosing to regard this contaminated-clothing news as good to know about, but nothing to get my knickers in a knot over. I'm certainly not going the nudist route.
What about you? Does knowing your new clothes may be infested with germs incline you to change your shopping habits?
Jennifer LaRue Huget
January 21, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: General Health
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