Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Storrs, CT, United States (4E) – Hot-air hand dryers in public bathrooms have been identified as the main source of infections arising from “Bacillus subtilis” (B.subtilis), a bacteria commonly found in human feces.
Researchers at the University of Connecticut (UConn ) analyzed public restrooms and found that hand dryers were dispersing B.subtilis, among other forms of bacteria, on the hands of their users.
“In most institutions, toilets don’t have lids and when you flush them you get a little bit of an aerosol,” said Dr. Peter Setlow, a molecular biology and biophysics professor at UConn Health, who conducted a public study on this phenomenon. Dr. Setlow said hand dryers grab that aerosol in the bathroom “and accelerate it” into human hands. During the study, plates were placed under hand dryers to collect the bacteria being blown out of the hand dryer.
“We’d get up to 150, 200 individual bacterial colonies and obviously different because they were different colors, different shapes, different smell,” said Dr. Setlow.
They tested 36 bathrooms multiple times and got similar results. The study was done in a research area in the academic building at UConn Health in Farmington not open to the public. Dr. Setlow said hand dryers in most public bathrooms work the same way.
“The bacteria that are blown from the hand dryers are coming from the bathroom air,” said Dr. Setlow.
Dr. Setlow has been studying molecular biology for 50 years. He said of the nearly 500 papers he’s helped author, this one (which was published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology) has gotten the most attention.
People who spoke with NBC Connecticut said news of the study may make them change their habits.
Dr. Setlow said adding HEPA filters to the hand dryers reduced the amount of bacteria four-fold when they were attached to the same dryers previously tested.
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