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Does it make sense to use air-operated hand dryers in hospitals?
Researchers found that air-operated hand dryers should be banned from hospital toilets because they distribute large amounts of bacteria and germs. The use of paper towels significantly reduces the risk of germs spreading between patients.
The University of Leeds scientists found in their study that paper towels should be used in hospital toilets instead of air-operated hand dryers to prevent the spread of dangerous germs. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Journal of Hospital Infection".
Most people don't wash their hands properly
The use of air-powered hand dryers in hospitals increases the levels of dangerous bacteria that cause blood poisoning, pneumonia and gastroenteritis. In their study, the experts found that the dryers can spread up to five times as much bacteria as paper towels. The problem starts because some people don't wash their hands properly, explains study author Professor Mark Wilcox from the University of Leeds.
Disadvantages of jet air dryers
When people use a so-called jet air dryer, the microbes are blown away and then distributed in the toilet room. In fact, the dryer also creates an aerosol that contaminates the toilet space, including the dryer itself and possibly the sink, floor, and other surfaces, depending on the dryer design and location, the scientists write. If people touch these surfaces, they risk being contaminated by the bacteria or viruses.
Paper towels pose a lower risk
Jet-air dryers often rely on non-contact technology to initiate drying of the hands. However, paper towels absorb the water and microbes that remain on the hands, and if properly disposed of, there is less potential for cross-contamination. The use of paper towels significantly reduces the risk of germs spreading between sick patients, the doctors emphasize. According to the study results, dryers can spread up to five times as many bacteria on the floor as paper towels.
Air dryers endanger patients and visitors
The use of air dryers in the toilets of hospital departments and in other clinical areas has already been restricted in some countries, however due to noise and not due to safety. Therefore, such dryers are still allowed in public areas of the hospital and endanger patients and visitors, say the experts.
How was the study carried out?
The research team examined two toilets in three hospitals in Great Britain, France and Italy. Each of the toilets examined had paper towel dispensers and air dryers. On certain days, people only used paper towel dispensers on other days, only air dryers were used. The level of bacterial contamination in the toilets was measured every day for a period of twelve weeks, which allowed comparisons between the effects of paper towels and air dryers. The scientists found five times more bacteria on the floor when air dryers were used compared to paper towels and also significantly more bacteria in the air, dust and on the surfaces of the room.
Which bacteria have been distributed?
For example, the experts found E. coli bacteria that cause gastroenteritis and pneumonia, Staphylococcus aureus, responsible for wound infections and blood poisoning, and enterococci that cause infections that are difficult to treat, especially in patients who undergo chemotherapy, the doctors explain. Several examples of greater bacterial contamination on surfaces have been found, including fecal and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, when jet air dryers were used instead of paper towels, study author Professor Wilcox said in a press release. The choice of hand drying method affects how likely microbes can spread and may also affect the risk of infection. (as)