Wash your hands and watch bacteria spread. That doesn’t sound good, but a new study revealed that all the soap dispensers at an Ohio school were contaminated with bacteria that cause illness. After kids used the soap, microbe levels on their hands grew.
MSNBC quotes microbiologist Carrie Zapka:
“This is kind of counterintuitive because soap is supposed to clean you. That soap can be a source of bacteria that can spread beyond the person washing his hands.
“There’s no need to panic. I want people to wash their hands because hand washing is proven to be effective at preventing sickness. We don’t know what the true risk level is in the community.”
Hospitals use dispensers that have replaceable bags or cartridges with their own nozzle and are sealed to prevent contamination. Many public bathrooms use refillable dispensers that are rarely cleaned.
In the lab, researchers put two common species of bacteria that have caused infectious outbreaks into soap and tested two hand washing techniques. The first hand washing method is the full version that doctors do, and the second is the regular daily hand washing we all do, or should do, anyway.
People who washed with the highly contaminated soap ended up with more bacteria on their hands after washing, in turn transferring more bacteria to items they touched.
Following up with a visit to an elementary school that had the open style refillable soap dispensers, the researchers found all 14 dispensers were contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria. Students and staff who washed with the soap had 26 times more bacteria on their hands than before they washed.
Replacing the dispensers with sealed ones had good results — they were free of contamination a full year later.
“Our findings further show that extrinsic contamination of hand soap can be eliminated or considerably reduced through the use of sealed-soap-dispensing systems,” say study authors.
Hand washing is still one of the best things your can do to prevent common illnesses and promote good health. But you might want to check out the type of dispensers used in public bathrooms.
Zapka works with Gojo Industries, makers of skin health and hygiene products, including soaps and soap dispensers. The study is reported in Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of “No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis,” a memoir. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and The Author’s Guild, and a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo