Handwashing always has been important, and the pandemic further magnified its crucial role in helping stop the spread of germs. But a new study also suggests the method used for drying hands can be just as important to public health.
The use of high-speed hand dryers also can transfer germs to a person’s clothing and lead to an increase in spreading those contaminants to other surfaces, according to the pilot study published Wednesday in “Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.”
Volunteers took part in an experiment where they dried their hands with either a hand dryer or paper towels while wearing an apron to test if any contaminants were spread to their clothing, according to the study. They then took varied paths around a hospital and touched commonly used surfaces.
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Levels of germs spread to the surfaces touched by volunteers were 10 times higher after hands were dried with the dryer than with paper towels. And there were greater transfers of bacteria to the apron when the volunteers used the dryer which further contributed to the spread of germs.
“Based on the user and surface contamination observed following hand drying using high-speed air dryers, we question the choice of air dryers in healthcare settings,” said Ines Moura, a research fellow at the University of Leeds and an author on the study.
The results also are relevant for public restrooms with a high amount of foot traffic, Moura state in a press release.
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The results are consistent with past studies on hand dryers, said Timothy Caulfield, research director at the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta.
Those past studies include recommendations that “only paper towels should be used in situations where hygiene is paramount,” such as hospitals, he said.
So why are these dryers often found in public restrooms?
“I think the move to hand dryers has been driven by many things, including cost, environmental concerns and, paradoxically, the public health push to get more people to wash their hands,” Caulfied told USA TODAY.
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