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Germs' favorite hiding places in hotel rooms revealed

A Rossen Reports investigation at five of the top hotel chains in the country revealed the cleanest spot in a typical hotel room — and the dirtiest.

The Rossen Reports team booked rooms at five top hotel chains across the country. After maids had cleaned up the rooms, bacteria expert Dr. Luisa Ikner, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona Gerba Lab, applied test swaps to various areas of the rooms.

A meter provided instant readouts of the bacteria counts. Anything over 100 on the scale was considered an unacceptable level of bacteria. (In addition to bacteria, other types of germs such as viruses can also be spread by contact with the skin.)

The light switches were the cleanest areas found, delivering readings as low as 6. The alarm clocks and nightstands were also pretty good.

But at nearly every hotel, the phones were teeming with bacteria — double or even more than triple the acceptable limit of 100. "People touch them a lot and they're not surfaces that are cleaned by the maids," Ikner said.

Ikner also used an ultraviolet light to look for stains not normally detected by the human eye. It revealed hidden stains all over the rooms, including a sofa and a curtain.

But the single dirtiest thing was the TV remote control. All of the remotes in the rooms tested registered sky-high levels of bacteria, with one delivering a 498, the highest reading measured. "That's how a lot of infectious viruses are transmitted," Ikner said.

Laboratory testing of a sample from one TV remote revealed colonies of E. coli. "This indicates there was fecal contamination on the remote," Ikner explained. "So perhaps someone used the restroom and didn't wash their hands when they were done."

Even worse, another remote bore MSRA — a highly contagious and dangerous bacterium, resistant to most antibiotics, that can cause painful skin infections.

Ikner had three suggestions for hotel guests to protect themselves from bacteria: "Wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, and wipe down surfaces with a disinfectant wipe."

Statement from the American Hotel & Lodging Association in response to this report:

“As a driver of job growth and economic opportunity, the hospitality industry offers accommodations for millions of guests each night and ensuring a clean and comfortable environment is a top priority. Housekeepers do not have an easy job and they work incredibly hard to adhere to strict standards of cleanliness.

Our Hotels regularly review and update housekeeping protocols. And though not empowered to set standards for the lodging industry, the American Hotel and Lodging Association offers resources, information, and products for hoteliers, and encourages the entire hotel community to continuously evaluate existing policies and practices as a precautionary measure and to upgrade them as needed.”  

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