Janell Cole column: Door knobs, hand dryers full of germs
When the worldwide SARS scare was fresh, a Capitol employee asked the North Dakota Health Department how long germs stay alive on a surface. Epidemiologist Kirby Kruger's response was e-mailed to state workers: "Information coming out of Hong Kon...
When the worldwide SARS scare was fresh, a Capitol employee asked the North Dakota Health Department how long germs stay alive on a surface.
Epidemiologist Kirby Kruger's response was e-mailed to state workers: "Information coming out of Hong Kong suggests the virus believed to cause SARS may survive as long as 24 hours on environmental surfaces."
That's the bad news. The good news is the Health Department has been ahead of the game for a few years with its notices in the building's public bathrooms saying, "Stay healthy this winter. Wash your hands for 10 to 20 seconds." And we've all seen warnings in restaurant bathrooms ordering employees to wash their hands before returning to work.
It's good advice anytime, as everything from e-coli to the common cold can spread by unwashed hands.
Now let's finish the job of protecting community health: Get rid of in-swinging public bathroom doors and ban hand dryers.
Doors first. It does little good to wash your hands when you can't get out of the room without touching a door handle.
Why don't architects, building code writers and public health gurus in this country get together on this contradiction? Isn't this as important as mandated scald guards shielding wheel chair users from sink drain pipes? (When was the last time you burned yourself on a P-trap?)
At the very least, paper towels should always be furnished and there should always be a wastebasket next to the door. Conscientious types can use a towel to open the door and still have a place to dispose of it on the way out.
That is, if you can find a towel. This brings us to the myth and deception of hand blow dryers.
First, don't you just hate the self-serving disclaimers? "We've installed these dryers because they're more sanitary and prevent paper mess and cutting down of trees" is essentially how it goes. The real meaning is: "We're too inconsiderate and cheap to furnish hand towels."
Plus the condescending instructions: hold hands under dryer and rub together.
But disclaimers and instructions are mostly irritations. Here's the serious stuff: People who hate blower dryers vote with their feet by not washing.
Worse, blow dryers are not "more sanitary" as the obsequious disclaimers allege. Nope. They are champion germ-spreaders.
Don't believe it?
This is from the Lee County, Fla., Health Department:
"Microbacterial studies ... revealed that using towels after washing reduced bacterial counts on the hands by an average of 42 percent for paper towels and 10 percent for cotton towels ... With hot air dryers bacterial counts increased by more than 500 percent."
An England study had similar results, they said, concluding, "Drying your hands with a paper towel offers the best bacteria reduction. Hot air dryers, on the other hand -- no pun intended -- were found to actually increase what's called skin and gut bacteria on the hands by an astonishing 436 percent. A full 100 percent of the samples taken from air inlets and 97 percent from nozzles contained potentially harmful bacteria."
The Florida officials said Staphylococci and micrococci, probably from skin and hair, were blown out of all 35 hand dryers sampled and 95 percent of those tested showed evidence of the potential pathogen Staphylococcus aureus. "At least six species of gut, or enterobacteria, were found, indicating fecal contamination."
For the full article, go to http://www.lee-county.com/healthdept/data/Dryers.htm
Cole is The Forum's Capitol correspondent in Bismarck.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org