Halloween Test and Treat: Whose Hands Have the Most Germs?

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - With Halloween upon us, that means all things creepy and scary come to light.  In fact, we're going to show you just "how scary" a little Halloween candy in the hands of little people can be.  We're not talking about the dangers of what might be in the candy-- but indeed--what might be on the hands that hold it.

"This is the way we wash our hands," sing students of Terri Martin's Pre-K class at Crowley's Ridge Academy PALS program.  It's a place where cleanliness is next to godliness.  Washing hands is routine as using disinfectant wipes on the tables several times a day.

"You get one squirt of soap," said Carleigh Hollis, a 4-year-old student.

"If you touch other people with germs on your hands, they'll get very sick," states Koda Yates, another 4-year-old.

If anyone gets the importance of washing hands, these kids do.  So we decided to see just how clean their hands are-- using a little Halloween candy.

We set to work....one bag of suckers serving as our "control," while kids could pick from the other one.

When you're done, I'm going to give you a tissue and you just put your stick on the tissue.  Our experiment well underway.  Each student selecting their favorite sucker and the party begins!

"One little, two little, three little witches," sing children from the PALS program.

Well on the way to a sugar high, each student leaves their stick on a tissue that I can pick up.  Then drop into an airtight bag, then take to Dr. David Gilmore, better known as the germ guy at Arkansas State.

Dr. Gilmore has agreed to find out what--if any germs--exist on the lollipop sticks.

"What we're going to do is pul this out and then we have gooey end and finger end," said Dr. David Gilmore, ASU Microbiology Dept.

But, before we get started, let's add this.

What about dirty hands outside of the classroom?  That's what brings us to the Paragould Community Center and a Saturday morning soccer game.

It's Chief Meterologist Ryan vaughan's soccer team.    Since they're outside--will their hands be dirtier than the ones inside?

"Do you think your hands are very dirty after the ballgame?" asked Diana Davis.

"Yes," answered Christian Walls, a 5-year-old soccer player.

"Did you get really dirty?" asked Diana.

"Yeah," responded Reece Middleton, a 4-year-old soccer player.

"Use soap and always, always use a towel when you're done," said Shad Vaughan.

No time to wash up now, after the last "good game" hand slap, it's sucker time!

Same instructions.  The boys picked their favorite lollipop and the stick went into a tissue and then a sealed bag for Dr. Gilmore and the lab at Arkansas State.

"So we unwrap the candy from the bag," said Dr. Gilmore.  "Figure out where about half the stick is.   And very carefully get the plier wrapped around it and cut it in half.  And then we wash the bacteria off the stick by putting it on this cute little thingy.   The Vortex Genie which has probably been featured on CSI."

From that, Dr. Gilmore takes the swab and wipes it across a culture media, or substance which will allow any germs on the sticks to grow.  They're put into an incubator and we come back a few days later.

"These are all the soccer pile," said Dr. Gilmore.

When we return...

"They have a really good ick factor," said Dr. Gilmore.   "Because the mold grew on top of the plate and just kept growing and just kept covering everything up."

From mold to bacteria colonies too numerous to count...

"Mountains and mountains of little bitty tiny colonies," said Dr. Gilmore.

Cultures from the the soccer team and classroom revealed lots of nasty bacteria on both sides--even staph.

"See those bright yellow colonies," said Dr. Gilmore pointing to a section on a petri dish. "That could be staph.   Now that doesn't mean that its particuarly dangerous, because 40% of us have staph living in our nose."

So comparing the two groups, what's Dr. Gilmore's conclusion:

"When you look at all the plates together that the school children were definitely messier," stated Dr. Gilmore.  "There's more bacteria on these plates."

But, Dr. Gilmore says our experiment had some flaws.

First, there's a whole lot of bacteria in our mouths and some of that--ended up as you see here--onto the sticks of the lollipops, then mixed with germs from the hands.

"The experiment to compare the two groups,  I don't really think it worked," said Dr. Gilmore.  "Because I think we got too much spit on our sticks."

Outside versus inside, hands versus mouths, germs were "ever present" in our experiment

Lurking where we couldn't see them and taking on ghoulish form when we could.  Scary?  Not really if we remember to do this...

"This is the way we wash our hands to make them squeaky clean."

Frequent handwashing is still the best defense we have against germs.  But, as for the disparity in results, we have to point out that our kids in the classroom were sitting down while the soccer players were standing after a game.   The ones sitting may have taken just a bit longer to enjoy their lollipops and that skews the results too.  The longer the students sat, the more time their saliva had to penetrate the surface of the sticks.