You know those hot air hand dryers found in almost all public restrooms? Time-consuming, don’t really dry your hands thoroughly — and now we discover that they throw a bunch of viruses into the air, particularly the newer design called the Dyson:

Researchers have long known that warm hand dryers can launch bacteria into the air—compared to dabbing with paper towels, which unleashes virtually none. But new jet air dryers, made by Dyson, are significantly more problematic—they launch far more viruses into the air, which linger for longer periods of time and reach much farther distances, researchers recently reported in the Journal of Applied Microbiology. This is particularly concerning because viruses, unlike many infectious bacteria, can easily maintain their infectiousness in the air and on surfaces, and just a few viral particles can spark an infection.

Peachy keen.

Not only that, but you know those antibiotic soaps and washes that have become so popular in recent years? They’re not necessarily helpful to everyone:

Allison Aiello, a professor at the University of Michigan…considered the antibiotic soaps and wipes now used, in one form or another, by 75% of American households. Odds are that you use them…Sadly, Aiello and colleagues found that antibiotic soaps and wipes with triclosan were no more likely than good old-fashioned soap to prevent gastrointestinal or respiratory illness. In Aiello’s words, “There was little evidence for an additional impact of new products, such as alcohol-based hand sanitizers or antibacterial soaps compared with nonantibacterial soaps, for reducing either gastrointestinal or respiratory infectious illness symptoms.”

For example, in a study Aiello reviewed that was conducted in Pakistan, gastrointestinal illnesses were reduced by half when people washed their hands with soap and by a little less than half when they washed their hands with antibiotic soap. What is worse, perhaps the most comprehensive study of the effectiveness of antibiotic and non-antibiotic soaps in the U.S., led by Elaine Larson at Columbia University (with Aiello as a coauthor), found that while for healthy hand washers there was no difference between the effects of the two, for chronically sick patients (those with asthma and diabetes, for example) antibiotic soaps were actually associated with increases in the frequencies of fevers, runny noses and coughs. In other words, antibiotic soaps appeared to have made those patients sicker.

Plus, anyone who has spent any time in public restrooms (and haven’t we all?) may have noticed that quite a few people don’t even wash their hands after using the bathroom. Scientists back that up when they try to quantify it: “A study of nearly eight thousand individuals in five U.S. cities found almost half of the participants failed to wash their hands after going to the bathroom.” And yet there is little question that—antibacterial soaps or not—handwashing reduces the transmission of disease, and it’s an excellent health habit to practice.

In closing, there’s Sheldon:

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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