Secret Swabs - Escalators

They are motorized stairways that move us up and down.

Escalators do all the work as thousands of hands and fingers hold on.

You probably figure these things are pretty filthy.

Memphian Regina Shipp says, "Ah, because people are not cautious of it--washing their hands all the time, and germs just transfer."

Memphian Ivonne Perez says, "Somebody don't wash their hands when they go to bathroom and nasty stuff."

Nasty stuff is what one Action News 5 viewer thought we'd surely find on escalators.

She wanted to put them to our now infamous SECRET SWAB TEST.

So we did!

Armed with sterile sponges and a hidden camera, we hit shopping malls and department stores.

FIVE places we knew we'd find escalators AND plenty of people using them.

Holding the sponges in a gloved hand, we THOROUGHLY swabbed the escalator handrails, trying NOT to get caught.

A closer look at the sponges show they were COVERED by DIRT.

Surely they'd be crawling with bacteria.

Microbiologist Connie Cook says, "I would consider these normal background levels of bacteria that would not affect on average person."

That's right.

Cook could NOT find any large amounts of bacteria on our escalator samples.

As usual, she put them through their paces, growing colonies on these petri dishes.

Cook continues, "There may very well be bacteria there--but we're only testing for bacterias that are known to cause health problems."

She found ONLY trace amounts of Staph Aureas, which comes from the nasal membrane and CAN cause infection if exposed to a cut.

"And it could even be the Staph Epidermus we've talked about before--that's normal on our skin, that everybody has," continues Cook.

Cook says escalators are like many other over-used surfaces--take this door handle for instance--so many hands come across it, bacteria might not have a chance to grow">

Unfortunately, THAT means most of it ends up on your hands.

But even she was surprised that so LITTLE bacteria turned up on the escalators we tested.

Cook continues, "Considering the results we've had on other tests like this--I do find that a little bit surprising">

After all, we've found FECAL MATTER on restaurant tables AND in HIGH LEVELS at one fitness center.

As for escalators--let's hope the FIVE we tested ARE representative.

That your next ride up OR down will NOT be harmful to your health.