Home >Jet air dryers should not be used in hospital toilets, study finds

Jet air dryers should not be used in hospital toilets, study finds

11 September 2018

Jet air hand dryers in hospital toilets spread more germs than disposable paper towels and should not be used, according to new research.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, and funded by the European Tissue Symposium, investigated whether the way people dried their hands has an impact on the spread of bacteria. 

The new study looked at bacterial spread in two toilets in each of three hospitals based in the UK, France and Italy over the course of 12 weeks. Each of the toilets had paper towel dispensers and jet air dryers, but only one of these was in use on any given day. 

Levels of bacterial contamination in the toilets were measured, allowing comparisons to be made when either paper towels or jet air dryers were in use. Samples were taken from the floors, air and surfaces in each of the toilets. 

Across the three hospitals, bacterial counts were significantly higher in the toilets on the days that jet air dryers were in use.

In the UK and France, at least five times more bacteria were recovered from the floors when jet air dryers were in use, compared with paper towels. 

Staphylococcus aureus (including MRSA) was found three times more often and in higher amounts on the surface of the jet air dryers in the UK hospital, compared with the paper towel dispensers.

Mark Wilcox, Professor of Medical Microbiology at the University of Leeds, who supervised the international study, said: “The problem starts because some people do not wash their hands properly.

“When people use a jet air dryer, the microbes get blown off and spread around the toilet room. In effect, the dryer creates an aerosol that contaminates the toilet room, including the dryer itself and potentially the sinks, floor and other surfaces, depending on the dryer design and where it is sited. If people touch those surfaces, they risk becoming contaminated by bacteria or viruses."

Writing in the Journal of Hospital Infection, the researchers argue that the official guidance about how to prevent bacterial contamination in hospital buildings needs to be strengthened.

At the moment, the official Department of Health guidance says air dryers can be placed in toilets in the public areas of a hospital but not in clinical areas: not because of the risks they pose for cross contamination but because they are noisy.

Photo Credit: University of Leeds.

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