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Bacteria levels on children's hands 'dangerously high'

19 October 2015

Swabbing tests carried out in schools by Initial Washroom Hygiene have revealed potentially high levels of bacteria on the average child's hands.

The hygiene specialist recently toured schools with its Hygiene Angels workshop, which provides advice to children on how to effectively wash their hands, with the aim of improving hygiene practices.


50 school children had their hands swabbed for microorganisms using sterile surface swabs, which were then analysed by an ATP bioluminescence reader. A higher ATP reading suggests a greater level of bacterial contamination. For hands, an ATP reading above 2000 units is considered high, and the Hygiene Angels tour found an average of 2,017 on the swabs taken from the children. The highest swab reading was 6,358 units, more than five times the normal level of bacteria found on hands.

High levels of bacteria can put children at an increased risk of catching an illness – at a time of year when coughs and colds are already rife. After washing their hands for the recommended 20-30 seconds the swabbing exercise was repeated, revealing bacteria reductions of 86%. 


One of the pencils swabbed during the Hygiene Angels’ visit had a reading of 1,663 units, and a wooden toy had a result of 2,002. Unlike hands, a reading of over 500 units on an object indicates high levels of contamination. Items like these are frequently chewed or placed in the mouth, leading to a faster hand-to-mouth transfer of germs than other classroom equipment. However, if the level of bacteria is an indication of popularity, then the Xbox wins hands down, with a measure of 5,236 units.


Dr Peter Barratt from Initial Washroom Hygiene said: "It’s important that we teach children about correct handwashing practices, as they’ll carry this information with them for the rest of their lives. Sporadic and sometimes ineffective handwashing by children, combined with the sharing of classroom items such as pencils and toys means that bacteria and other microorganisms can be spread more easily between children at school. 


"We should all remember that young children tend to be more at risk from illness than adults, and hands provide a perfect environment for a wide range of bacteria and viruses, including E. coli, cold virus, influenza, Streptococcus and Norovirus. Washing your hands thoroughly for 20-30 seconds remains the simplest and most effective way to reduce the spread of infection, and schools need to take the lead to ensure all their students wash their hands thoroughly after every washroom visit."

The study was carried out to coincide with Global Handwashing Day on 15th October.

Hygiene tips: how to get kids to wash their hands


• Have the handwashing area set up for comfort – provide a child-safe stool or a low wash basin, and make sure they can easily reach the soap, hand dryer or towels

• Provide fun, brightly-coloured soaps and scrubbers

• Create an appealing environment with kid-friendly décor, using bright colours, children’s characters and fun designs

• Make it into a game – keep a handwashing chart and encourage children to add to it each time they wash their hands. You could even add a reward after a certain number of washes

• Most importantly, keep calm and keep it fun and simple. As soon as children feel pressured they will lose their enthusiasm for handwashing