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Harvard Health Blog
The bacterial horror of hot-air hand dryers
- By John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributing Editor
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it is good to Any thoughts on the level of risk to the
individual from air dryers versus the
level of risk to the planet from the
combination of creating, delivering, and
disposing of the paper towels? Instead
of the conclusion being to use paper towels, is there any thinking of how to
decrease harmful bacteria in the air?
Would encouraging public toilets to
have lids (and educating people to use
them) be worthwhile, especially in
healthcare facilities? Should people at home be encouraged to lower their toilet
lids each time they flush? It’s so hard
these days to figure out exactly what is
and isn’t worth being afraid of, and to
not avoid one risk at the expense of
running right into a different more significant risk
Sounds like a bit of a storm in a lavatory bowl to me. It’s obviously been happening for a very long time, at least since we modernised our bathrooms. What we didn’t know about wasn’t worrying us.
Anyway, these micro ”interpersonal fecal transfers” are quite likely to have as many beneficial effects as harmful ones, in the same way that you build up resistance to disease by not being too houseproud.
Nevertheless, an interesting new insight into what’s going on around us.
From this study it seems that the first order of business is to make sure all public toilets have lids, and educate the public about shutting before flushing. Automatic lowering of the lid would be ideal, but until then take a piece of toilet paper in your hand, and use that to lower the lid BEFORE flushing (done this all my life to lower the seat after a man, who was not taught by his parents to do so, leaves the seat up). Second order of business is to, obviously, remove the air dryers. They slow down the traffic in a busy public bathroom (keeping us in there longer than we want), and now we know of their aiding bacteria dispersal. Paper towel dispensers come in many flavors. Automatic “eye” ones are the best (especially if they roll out one LONG sheet that’s enough to dry your hands), the old fashioned “grab and pull down the next towel” come in second, and the worst are the ones requiring you to manually forward the towel, exchanging bacteria with the last user and the next user all the while water is dripping down your arm into your sleeve. I don’t like public bathrooms, but where else are you going to go?
Why are you concerned if it’s harmless and found widely throughout the environment? I just read up on it a bit and it’s actually used in food preparation of fermented foods (natto) and as an alternative treatment for digestive issues. We should probably be glad if it’s in us; it seems our digestive microbiome probably needs it.
Maybe we need to invent an automatic cover attached to the toilet that was activated by the actual flush, i.e. a cover which came down over the bowl when the handle was pressed, and when it completed the task, then and only then would the flush occur. Next, you would have to determine how long before the cover would recede to contain the aerosolized material, preventing the next person from being able to use said toilet.
Actually teaching people to physically use the cover would result in massive hand contamination, which would put us back into the same boat as the original handwashing fight. Better not to take that chance, mechanized cover would be safer.
And any electric dryer, motor, fan emits high levels of Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) magnetic fields.
International Agency for Research on Cancer
“Extremely low-frequency magnetic fields are possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B).”
Any thoughts on the level of risk to the individual from air dryers versus the level of risk to the planet from the combination of creating, delivering, and disposing of the paper towels? Instead of the conclusion being to use paper towels, is there any thinking of how to decrease harmful bacteria in the air? Would encouraging public toilets to have lids (and educating people to use them) be worthwhile, especially in healthcare facilities? Should people at home be encouraged to lower their toilet lids each time they flush? It’s so hard these days to figure out exactly what is and isn’t worth being afraid of, and to not avoid one risk at the expense of running right into a different more significant risk.
From the paper: “One of the organisms recovered from multiple bathrooms was B. subtilis,” of which a particular type, “strain PS533 [was] used to prepare large amounts of spores in a research laboratory on the 2nd floor of research building 1.” About 2.5-5% of the total bacteria isolated was confirmed to be of this “non-pathogenic” B. subtilis strain, which is found “widely throughout the environment.” (If I worked in the building, I probably wouldn’t be too thrilled about this.)
“The sampled restrooms were located in a university health sciences building, and at least some of the bacteria came from experiments going on in laboratories within the building.”
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