Thursday, July 5, 2012

Disease mongering? Germs found on more surfaces

Two recent studies have uncovered still more inanimate objects that are crawling with bacteria. I’ve scoffed at research like this before [here, here & here] but this time it’s serious. Bacteria have been found in offices and hotel rooms! Call the Hazmat Team.

Headline: "The most contaminated surfaces in hotel rooms." Investigators have found that bacteria are not only rampant on hotel room toilets and sinks, they are all over the TV remote, the bedside light switch and even the housekeeping carts. Not surprisingly, sponges and mops were particularly bacteria-laden.

The study comprised a total of 9 [yes, 9] hotel rooms in three different states. Way down at the end of the seventh paragraph of the report is this sentence, “The researchers cannot say whether or not the bacteria detected can cause disease, however, the contamination levels are a reliable indicator of overall cleanliness.”

Headline: “Dirtiest Places in the Office: Men’s Desks.” Researchers from the University of San Diego “found high levels of bacteria that come from human skin and mucus membranes, as well as tons of bacteria from plants and soil when they sampled offices. The researchers also found tons of bacteria on phones and chair armrests.” You read it right, tons of bacteria.

The research was done in 2007 at a total of 10 offices in three cities, New York, San Francisco and Tucson. Tucson?

Why were men’s desks more contaminated than those of women? The study says men are larger and thus shed more bacteria and [allegedly] men are dirtier. Chairs and phones had a many more bacteria than desktops, keyboard and mouses. Once again, the seventh paragraph of the story quotes one of the authors, "These surfaces are pretty inert. You are getting mostly what you are putting out or shedding, or what's blowing in through the door and window," [Scott] Kelly said. "It's harmless; you bring it in with you."

Oh, it’s harmless. I see. One can also see why it took 5 years to analyze and publish this work.

So here we have anxiety inducing headlines and stories until near the end when it turns out in both cases, as seems to be the pattern with studies like these, no disease transmission can be link to the hordes of bacteria.

But if you want even more to worry about, you must check out this infographic headlined “Germs Really Are Everywhere.” After pointing out the many places where bacteria can be found, it advises “Use soap, alcohol swabs or gel sanitizers frequently.”

Alcohol hand sanitizers have been linked to skin problems in hospital workers and the head of infectious diseases at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago advises against their routine use in non-medical settings except in flu season. He says to stick with soap and water.

For now, I say it’s still OK to go to the office or stay in a hotel.


Unknown said...

I agree they over use alcohol base hand hygiene. In fact in my daughters class after recess on the way to lunch they have the kids use the anti bacterial gel. My daughter who had visible dirty hands asked to wash hands her hand with soap and water and was denied. She was told the alcohol gel would be fine. When did that stuff wash dirt off? Dumb idiots.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Suzanne, you are correct. Soap is better than gel for visible dirt.

RegionsTrauma said...

So, a person is 10% human cells and 90% microbiome. Why do we care if we encounter bacteria we left behind? Or someone else's? It's mostly the same. We're trying to find gels and antibiotics to wipe out our microbiome. Just wait until it finds ways to wipe us out. Or has it already?

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Regions, well said. The microbiome may indeed win the battle.

Anonymous said...

In my hospital we have signs with Uncle Sam pointing at you saying "I want wash your hands." It's pretty compelling. Hospitals are filthy, I wash my hands, change my white coat, and scrub down my stethoscope all the time, and I'm pretty sure I'm STILL up to my eyeballs in MRSA.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Anon, you are correct. You are likely to be a carrier of MRSA as most of us might be. That's why meticulous hand washing is in order.

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