Paper towels spread less bacteria than air hand dryers in hospital bathrooms, study finds

A study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection found bacterial contamination was lower in washrooms where paper towels were used for hand drying than in washrooms where jet air dryers were used.

The study examined hand-drying methods in hospital washrooms and whether they contributed to the risk of bacterial contamination in the hospital environment.

Researchers analyzed bacterial contamination levels in washrooms where hand drying occurred either via paper towels or jet air dryers. They studied 120 sampling sessions over a 12-week period in three hospitals. The hospitals were in the United Kingdom, France and Italy.

Total bacterial recovery was significantly greater from jet air dryer versus paper towel dispenser surfaces at all sites.

In the U.K., methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus recovery was three times more frequent and sixfold higher for jet air dryer versus paper towel surfaces. Additionally, methicillin-resistant S. aureus recovery was three times more frequent from jet air dryer versus paper towel surfaces or floors.

In France, ESBL-producing bacteria were recovered from dust twice as often during jet air dryer use compared to paper towel use.

Bacterial contamination in washrooms in Italy was significantly lower than in bathrooms in France and the U.K.

"Hand-drying method affects the risk of [airborne] dissemination of bacteria in real world settings," the study authors wrote.

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