A recent study found bathroom hand dryers are pretty gross. A study by the scientists at the University of Connecticut found hand dryers in men’s and women’s bathrooms blew bacteria onto hands including fecal matter. The study, published in the “Applied and Environmental Microbiology Journal, stated scientists came to the conclusion after they placed data-gathering plates under hand dryers at 36 bathrooms on the University of Connecticut’s campus. The researchers said they placed the plates under the dryers for about 30 seconds and found “between 18 and 60 different colonies of bacteria on each plate.”
“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,” the study said.
The scientists wrote it was not immediately clear what “organisms” are “dispersed by hand dryers” and if “hand dryers provide a reservoir of bacteria or simply blow large amounts of bacterially contaminated air, and whether bacterial spores are deposited on surfaces by hand dryers.”
The researchers noted the hand dryers did not have the HEPA [high-efficiency particulate air] filters that come in most Dyson models. Researchers said the HEPA filters helped decrease but not eliminate the bacteria.
The study said it was possible hand dryers are “responsible for spreading pathogenic bacteria, including bacterial spores” through an entire building as well. Researchers also noted Bacillus subtilis PS533 was discovered in every bathroom they tested
Peter Setlow, one of the study’s lead authors, said that the bacteria will not potentially affect human health but it shows how easy the bacteria spread. He said the bathrooms they tested now offer paper towels
THE STUDY: Deposition of Bacteria and Bacterial Spores by Bathroom Hot-Air Hand Dryers
American Society for Microbiology HOT AIR DRYERS
Hot-air hand dryers in multiple men’s and women’s bathrooms in three basic science 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 one basic science research laboratory. Plates exposed to hand dryer air for 30 s 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 ∼4-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 ∼2.5 to 5% 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. 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
IMPORTANCE 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. 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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