*Cleanzine-logo-10a.jpgCleanzine: your weekly cleaning and hygiene industry newsletter 18th July 2024 Issue no. 1123

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SOAPBOX: The potential for viruses to spread beyond washrooms and implications for public health

ETS-Pulire.jpgby Professor Mark Wilcox OBE…

“Proper hand washing with soap and water after using the toilet is essential in killing germs and removing microbes on the hands. Hand drying following hand washing completes the process and is needed as damp or wet hands spread infection more easily.

But what if these processes are not carried out adequately? Is there potential for microbes left on the hands to spread and cause harm? Even worse, could these germs be carried out of the washroom and into our environment? Onto the bus for example? Or back to the table in a restaurant? Or into shops and public spaces?

We are all human and even though we know the importance of good hand hygiene in preventing the spread of infection, people can be lazy and not take the care that they should.

As an infection control specialist, I have been carrying out research into hand hygiene for more than 15 years. One particular experiment, undertaken at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals, explored the possibility of viruses being carried out of the washroom on the hands and clothing of people after they dried their hands. Its findings are a sober warning for us all.

In our experiment, we contaminated people's hands with a harmless virus and then had them dry their hands using two different hand drying options - paper towels and jet air dryers. We then placed stethoscopes around their neck and asked them to fold their arms across their body and walk out of the washroom into the public areas. When we measured the levels of contamination on the chairs and surfaces that they sat in and touched, what we found was nothing short of shocking.

The levels of virus contamination of hospital surfaces were 10-fold higher following jet air dryer use than after paper towel use. Pathogens that had landed on the body when drying hands were then carried out of the washroom and transferred onto multiple surfaces, such as chairs, tables and phones.

Now this was in the hospital where I work - but imagine the same scenario in a bar, cinema or sports stadium. People are potentially walking out of washrooms with pathogens attached to their clothes, handbag, glasses, you name it. They then risk transferring them to surfaces and objects that will be touched by literally hundreds of people. The implications for public health are mind boggling.

We all had a crash course in hand hygiene during the pandemic and are more aware of the importance of washing and drying our hands properly throughout the day to protect our own health and that of the people around us.

In washroom situations - where we are dealing with the bugs associated with toileting, in addition possibly to viruses on our hands that cause infections such as sore throats, flu and Covid-19 - we need to be extra careful. And we all have a role to play - as citizens we must take care to wash and dry our hands thoroughly after using the toilet. Meanwhile those responsible for providing public washrooms in restaurants, hotels, schools and other public spaces must offer optimal hand drying facilities in order to minimise the spread of infection in the washroom and beyond.

A number of countries, including France, Germany and Scotland, prohibit jet air dryers in hospital washrooms due to their potential to spread infection. Meanwhile, single use towels have been proven to offer the most hygienic way of drying hands after a visit to the washroom - and they get my vote every time.”


13th June 2024

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