Flip-flops are a magnet for dangerous, deadly bacteria
The flip-flop is the preferred summer shoe for many New Yorkers. But on city streets, the flimsy footwear can be deadly.
That film of grime that coats your feet at the end of a day of flopping around town is some dangerous dirt.
Lab tests of two reporters' flip-flops, worn for four days, revealed a potentially deadly germ - Staphylococcus aureus - lurking on the rubber.
If it seeps into a cut on your foot - an entirely common summer affliction - the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and, if left untreated, kill you.
"It can make you pretty sick if it got into a wound and into your blood, where it could attack any of your internal organs," says Dennis Kinney, Ph.D., the manager of the microbiology lab at EMSL Analytical. "If you didn't treat it with antibiotics, you could die from it."
Kinney's team at EMSL tested two pairs of flip-flops we wore throughout the city for four days each.
The sandals took a trip on the F, A, C, G, 2 and 3 trains, went on walks through Prospect Park, out to bars in the West Village, to a Cyclones baseball game in Coney Island and rode the Cyclone. Twice. They even waded through a murky public restroom at the Coney Island subway station.
The results? Pretty heinous.
The $3.50 flip-flops harbored approximately 18,100 bacteria of the five most prevalent varieties found. (Unsurprisingly, the pair that made the trip to Coney Island and stopped off in the public restroom had roughly 13,900 more bacteria.)
And that's what accumulated in just four days.
"If you wear shoes for three months, 93% have fecal bacteria and 20% have E. coli," says Dr. Charles P. Gerba, professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona.
While some of the bacteria found were common, non-disease-causing staphylococci, more dangerous offenders lurked underfoot.
Aerococcus viridans and Rothia mucilaginosa, bacteria that normally reside in the mouth, were present.
"It's not a good sign," says Kinney. "It means that people are spitting. If someone were sick and spitting on the ground, you could pick something up."
Not to mention the worst offender, Staph aureus. Worst-case scenario: It enters your bloodstream, goes untreated and you die. But even mere contact with the skin can yield nasty results.
"Staph aureus can be pretty dangerous," says Kinney. "This strain isn't methicillin-resistant (MRSA), but it is Staph aureus, and it can still cause infections - typically boils and skin infections."
Still not convinced, flip-flop lovers? Here's a compelling argument for putting on a pair of shoes:
"There's more bacteria in the city," says Dr. Philip M. Tierno Jr., the director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University's Langone Medical Center. "There's garbage and rat-doo. This city is strewn with rats, and rats are harbingers of all sorts of germs. The same is true with cockroaches. It is all potentially harmful."