An illustration of some of the most common microbes found on surfaces

Most Common Microbes: Coming Soon To A Surface Near You

Picture of Valerie Beck, PhD

Valerie Beck, PhD

Director of Microbiology

The world is usually less clean than we might think. Research has found that many public and private locations have more bacteria on their surfaces than you would find on a toilet seat.

7 Microbes on Your Surfaces

While most people have a concept of dirty surfaces harboring bacteria and viruses, few know exactly what kinds of microbes they might be facing. These are seven of the most common disease-causing microbes living on the surfaces around you.

1. Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a bacterium that thrives on many different surfaces. Also known as P. aeruginosa, it has an innate ability to survive and thrive in many different types of environments including moist surfaces like sinks or showerheads. In addition to its persistence on surfaces, it can also form biofilms. P. aeruginosa biofilms are more difficult to kill making these types of infections more challenging to treat.

2. Salmonella enterica

Salmonella enterica is type of bacteria that can cause food poisoning in humans. In fact, it’s one of the most common causes of foodborne illness. Unfortunately, it’s found in many different types of foods including poultry, eggs, dairy products, fish and shellfish. Salmonella enterica infections usually result from eating contaminated foods or drinking contaminated water. Symptoms may include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever and vomiting. In some cases, an infection can cause severe dehydration that leads to hospitalization.

To reduce the risk of Salmonella enterica contamination it’s important to practice good hygiene when handling raw meats or seafood as well as other potentially hazardous foods like unpasteurized milk or cheese. Surfaces with high levels of contact with food preparation, like kitchen counters, are very likely to be exposed to Salmonella enterica at some point. When cleaning these surfaces, it’s important to understand that both cleaning and disinfecting processes are essential to prevent the spread of Salmonella.

3. Escherichia coli

E. coli has been the culprit behind a number of food recalls and restaurants closing. In fact, one such outbreak happened in 2015 at a popular Mexican food chain in the U.S. Here, this incident involved five customers being infected with E. coli O157:H7, a strain of the bacteria. While there were no fatalities, two of the five infected customers had to be hospitalized due to the severity of their infection.

Infections are not just isolated to food service facilities, but have also been reported at resorts, cruise ships, and in many nursing homes. The CDC recommends proper hygiene around food products, untreated water sources, and around animals to prevent potentially severe E. coli infections.

4. Staphylococcus aureus

As a part of the body’s natural microbiome, it’s not always pathogenic. However, S. aureus often spreads through direct physical contact with a contaminated surface. A number of personal care items and surfaces in a home or hotel room can potentially be hotbeds for these bacteria.

To prevent staph infections from occurring it’s important to practice good hygiene habits like washing your hands often with soap and water especially after coming into contact with someone who has an active staph infection. These bacteria can survive on surfaces for days therefore, any surfaces exposed to Staphylococcus aureus should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before they are handled by someone else.


Many bacterial strains have developed antibiotic resistance over the years. For example, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which cost the healthcare industry $1.7 billion in 2017 alone. This bacterium is found on surfaces in healthcare facilities and in the homes of those who have had contact with. MRSA, like P. aeruginosa, can also survive on surfaces for days making it easy to spread between them. And since these bacteria are resistant to many antibiotics, eliminating their spread at the source is the best way to prevent the complications associated with infection.

6. Human Coronavirus

With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, many have become more educated on this family of viruses and how they have affected population centers for decades. The coronavirus family is a large family of viruses that cause a number of illnesses, for example, the common cold. Each year, during cold and flu season, the likelihood of a surface being contaminated with a human coronavirus is much higher. And this elevated risk of exposure makes regular cleaning necessary to help prevent infections.

7. Influenza A

Influenza A is one of the most prominent seasonal viruses that affects millions each year. It’s one of three types of influenza that cause the flu as well as the only type known to cause flu pandemics. Because flu is highly transmissible, it’s a yearly concern for millions across the world.

Infection typically occurs when an infected person sneezes or coughs in close proximity to another person. However, it may also spread through contact with contaminated surfaces or by touching objects already contaminated by someone else’s droplets that contain infectious particles. Furthermore, influenza A can remain infectious on surfaces for over 24 hours, making contamination difficult to avoid. The CDC recommends regular cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces during flu season to help prevent the spread of the virus.

How To Protect Your Surfaces

Of course, the microbes around us are best fought with good cleaning habits. Contamination and re-contamination of surfaces is something that is difficult to prevent, which is why regular surface cleaning schedules are so important. It’s also vital that cleaning schedules adjust as different diseases come in and out of season, to accommodate the increased exposure your surfaces will have to different microbes. By establishing regular cleaning procedures that follow best cleaning and disinfecting practices, we can inhibit the spread of many diseases which will create a better environment around us for health and wellness.

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