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Study Finds Hand Dryers May Disperse Bathroom Bacteria
Print Article Contributed by BSM Staff

HARTFORD, CT -- A new study indicates that bathroom hand dryers may be contaminating those who use them and may be dispersing pathogens throughout buildings, though it is unclear if those pathogens are harbored in the dryers themselves.

According to a University of Connecticut affiliated study, many kinds of bacteria, including potential pathogens and spores, could be deposited on hands by hand dryers, though it did not find reservoirs of bacteria in them.

Published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, the study said hot-air hand dryers in multiple men's and women's bathrooms in three research areas in an academic health center were screened for their deposition on plates of (i) total bacteria, some of which were identified, and (ii) a kanamycin-resistant Bacillus subtilis strain, PS533, spores of which are produced in large amounts in a nearby basic science research laboratory.

Plates exposed to hand dryer air for 30 seconds averaged 18 to 60 colonies/plate; but interior hand dryer nozzle surfaces had minimal bacterial levels.

Plates exposed to bathroom air for 2 min with hand dryers off averaged ≤1 colony, and plates exposed to bathroom air moved by a small fan for 20 min had averages of 15 and 12 colonies/plate in two buildings tested.

Retrofitting hand dryers with HEPA filters reduced bacterial deposition by hand dryers four-fold, and potential human pathogens were recovered from plates exposed to hand dryer air whether or not a HEPA filter was present and from bathroom air moved by a small fan.

Spore-forming colonies, identified as B. subtilis PS533, averaged about 2.5 to 5 percent of bacteria deposited by hand dryers throughout the basic research areas examined, regardless of distance from the spore-forming laboratory, and these were almost certainly deposited as spores, said researchers.

Comparable results were obtained when bathroom air was sampled for spores. These results indicate that many kinds of bacteria, including potential pathogens and spores, can be deposited on hands exposed to bathroom hand dryers and that spores could be dispersed throughout buildings and deposited on hands by hand dryers.

While there is evidence that bathroom hand dryers can disperse bacteria from hands or deposit bacteria on surfaces, including recently washed hands, there is less information on (i) the organisms dispersed by hand dryers, (ii) whether hand dryers provide a reservoir of bacteria or simply blow large amounts of bacterially contaminated air, and (iii) whether bacterial spores are deposited on surfaces by hand dryers.

Consequently, this study has implications for the control of opportunistic bacterial pathogens and spores in public environments including health care settings, said the authors. Within a large building, potentially pathogenic bacteria, including bacterial spores, may travel between rooms, and subsequent bacterial/spore deposition by hand dryers is a possible mechanism for spread of infectious bacteria, including spores of potential pathogens if present.












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