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Advances in hand washing aren’t as sanitary as we thought

Advances in hand washing aren’t as sanitary as we thought

What’s best?

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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The post and article conflate bacteria with viruses. Hot water and soap can kill bacteria but not viruses. Running water can remove both bacteria and viruses from the hands so they can drain away. Does using paper towels increase or decrease the number of germs on one’s hands? Don’t know.

Also, Dyson is not the only manufacturer of high speed air dryers found in washrooms. I have seen and used Mitsubishi high speed air dryers.

Bacteria are sticky lil’ devils. It’s one of their specialties. Viruses not so much. They just are not that sophisticated. They barely rate as “organisms”, being essentially genetic packages with a delivery system.

Now, bacteria carry virus, which are TINY by comparison.

What the article says, as I understand, is that air dryers blow stuff all over the place, where paper towels tend to keep the “whatever” left on your hands after washing much more localized on the paper itself.

And the paper…contra enviro-nazis…is renewable crop. If you ever doubt this, drive through the Upper Peninsula in Michican or East Texas.

    Valerie in reply to Ragspierre. | April 18, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    Paper is also likely mildly antibiotic on its own, just like wooden cutting boards. The paper is made of fibers that can wick water away from the bacteria, thus killing them.

      rabidfox in reply to Valerie. | April 18, 2016 at 5:17 pm

      Paper is also great for opening public restroom doors that have been handled by people who do NOT wash their hands.

I don’t think the dryers were ever supposed to be sanitary.

I think they exist so that virtue signal lets could feel environmental, like they were saving some trees from dying.

    The Friendly Grizzly in reply to rotten. | April 18, 2016 at 11:24 am

    I’m old, and can remember the hand dryers being around long before environmentalism became a fashion statement.

    CloseTheFed in reply to rotten. | April 18, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    Air dryers are about:

    1. Staff doesn’t have to restock the paper;
    2. The public often misses the trash can.

It is interesting about the Dyson driers. Someone proved awhile back that regular dryers are close to useless – you end up spending enormous amounts of money on electricity, and usually can’t get your hands dry. The physics is just against it. The Dyson dryers work differently. Instead of trying to heat the air, and then have the hot air dry your skin, the Dyson dryers apparently manage to cut the water from your skin, theoretically using notably less energy. But, it makes sense that all that super fast air is going to spew the stuff blown off hands all over the place.

I will continue to prefer towels. Thank you very much.

David Breznick | April 18, 2016 at 11:44 am

Dyson, get ready for a class action lawsuit.

These studies don’t support the conclusions.

in a study Aiello reviewed that was conducted in Pakistan, gastrointestinal illnesses were reduced by half when people washed their hands with soap

I’m surprised that hand washing was even that effective—I suspect a bit of data fudging going on there. The reason hand washing can’t be hugely significant is that the primary vector for transmission of such diseases in Pakistan is not hand contact. It does depend a bit on exactly which part of Pakistan was involved in the study.

    Paul In Sweden in reply to tom swift. | April 19, 2016 at 9:53 am

    SHOOT ME NOW!!! – A curry house chef prepared food after wiping his bottom with his hands – because he doesn’t use toilet paper for ‘cultural reasons’, a court heard . Mahbub Chowdhury, 46, had an empty bottle in his kitchen which inspectors discovered was covered in fecal matter. He said he filled the bottle with water from the kitchen taps and used it to clean his bottom after visiting the toilet – and did not use paper for cultural reasons. Chowdhury then prepared dishes including meat and fish curries at his Yeahya Flavour of Asia in Swindon, Wilts. He pleaded guilty to 10 allegations of breaching food and hygiene regulations at Swindon Magistrates Court and will be sentenced later.

As if any public bathroom is a place that could even be considered sanitary.
I’d rather paper towels be used all the time in public restrooms. Can’t recycle hot air from the dryers.