A study funded by European Tissue Symposium and led by a team of researchers from the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals.

Looked into the way people dried their hands and what effect it had on the spread of bacteria.

The study took place in two toilets within three hospitals, the hospitals where located in the UK, France and Italy.

The researchers studied the toilets over a course of 12 weeks.

Each toilet was equipped with both jet air dryers and paper towels but only one was in operation each day.

Researchers measured the levels of bacterial contamination in the toilets.

Samples were taking from the air, surfaces and floors in each of the toilets allowing comparisons to be made between jet air dryers and paper towels.

The bacterial count across all three hospitals was significantly higher in the toilets when the jet air dryers was in operation.

At least five time more bacteria was recovered from the floors of the toilets in the UK and France, when the jet air dryers were in use, compared with the paper towels.

In the UK hospital Staphylococcus aureus which can cause a range of illnesses including MRSA was found three times more often and in higher quantities on the jet air dryers surface compared to that of the paper towel dispensers.

Mark Wilcox, a Medical Microbiology Professor at the University of Leeds, who supervised the 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.”

The researchers are calling for the Department of Health to strengthen its guidelines.

Currently jet air dryers can be placed in any public area but not in any of the clinical areas.

This is due to the noise pollution from the air dryers rather than to control the risk of cross contamination.

Read the full study online in the Journal of Hospital Infection here.

Image courtesy of University of Leeds.