Does Washing Hands Really Stop Spread of Diseases

Author: Wiley-Blackwell
Published: 2010/09/07 - Updated: 2020/03/21
Peer-Reviewed: N/A
Contents: Summary - Main - Related Publications

Synopsis: Study looks at methods of hand drying, including paper towels and hand dryers, and the effect on transfer of bacteria from the hands to other surfaces. Volunteers were asked to wash their hands and place them onto contact plates which were then incubated to measure bacterial growth. The most hygienic method of drying hands is using paper towels or using a hand dryer which doesn't require rubbing your hands together.

Main Digest

A study by researchers at the University of Bradford and published today in the Journal of Applied Microbiology looked at different methods of drying the hands following hand washing, and their effect on transfer of bacteria from the hands to other surfaces. The different methods included paper towels, traditional hand dryers, which rely on evaporation, and a new model of hand dryer, which rapidly strips water off the hands using high velocity air jets.

Frequently people give up drying their hands and wipe them on their clothes instead, but hand-hygiene is a key part of infection control and drying hands after washing is a very important part of the process.

Our bodies naturally have bacteria called commensals all over them.

However, bacteria from other sources, such as raw meat, can also survive on hands, and can be easily transferred to other surfaces, increasing the risk of cross-contamination.

When hands are washed the number of bacteria on the surface of the skin decreases, but they are not necessarily eliminated.

If the hands are still damp then these bacteria are more readily transferred to other surfaces.

In this study the researchers quantified the effects of hand drying by measuring the number of bacteria on different parts of the hands before and after different drying methods.

Volunteers were asked to wash their hands and place them onto contact plates which were then incubated to measure bacterial growth.

The volunteers were then asked to dry their hands using either hand towels or one of three hand dryers, with or without rubbing their hands together, and levels of bacteria were re-measured.

Dr Snelling and her team found that rubbing the hands together whilst using traditional hand dryers could counteract the reduction in bacterial numbers following hand-washing.

Furthermore, they found that the relative reduction in the number of bacteria was the same, regardless of the hand dryer used, when hands are kept still.

When hands are rubbed together during drying, bacteria that live within the skin can be brought to the surface and transferred to other surfaces, along with surface bacteria that were not removed by hand-washing.

The researchers found the most effective way of keeping bacterial counts low, when drying hands, was using paper towels.

Amongst the electric dryers, the model that rapidly stripped the moisture off the hands was best for reducing transfer of bacteria to other surfaces.

Dr Snelling says:

"Good hand hygiene should include drying hands thoroughly and not just washing. The most hygienic method of drying hands is using paper towels or using a hand dryer which doesn't require rubbing your hands together."

Attribution/Source(s):

This quality-reviewed publication pertaining to our Dermatology section was selected for circulation by the editors of Disabled World due to its likely interest to our disability community readers. Though the content may have been edited for style, clarity, or length, the article "Does Washing Hands Really Stop Spread of Diseases" was originally written by Wiley-Blackwell, and submitted for publishing on 2010/09/07 (Edit Update: 2020/03/21). Should you require further information or clarification, Wiley-Blackwell can be contacted at the onlinelibrary.wiley.com website. Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith.

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