Hospital Elevator Buttons vs. Toilet Surfaces: Guess Which One the Bacteria Prefer?

Don't touch that!

In hospitals, you’re more likely to find bacteria growing on elevator buttons than on toilet surfaces – for goodness sake!

This is according to a study just published by Canadian researchers who went to 3 major Toronto hospitals and found that 61% of elevator buttons (interior and exterior) vs. 43% of toilet surfaces had bacteria on them. The bugs they found the most were staphylococci and streptococcus bacteria (as in strep throat), in that order. Significantly, the prevalence of bacteria in all hospital elevators exceeded what you find in the community.

While the bacteria found in this study were not antibiotic resistant, the researchers do point out that the white lab coat, computer keyboards, cellphones, stethoscopes, scotch tape, ultrasound transducers, and X-ray equipment have all been identified as sources of hospital-acquired infections in other studies.

These findings illustrate the broader principle that hospitals are an inherently dangerous place. Infectious disease specialist Brad Spellberg, MD, professor of medicine at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in the US (who was not involved in the study) puts it this way:

“I do think that people need to understand that the hospital is an inherently dangerous place and it’s not because hospitals are dirty or doctors are lazy or anything like that. Think about it this way. You’re taking the sickest people in society, crowding them into one building, tearing new holes in their bodies that they didn’t use to have by placing plastic catheters in their bloodstream, their bladder, putting tubes into their lungs that can breathe for them, and we’re using very large quantities of antibiotics to treat infections. So that’s a perfect breeding ground to generate antibiotic resistant bacteria.”

Since hospital elevators lie in high-traffic areas, making elevator buttons potential sources of bacterial transmission by a wide variety of people the researchers suggest several strategies to decrease risk. These include placing hand sanitizers inside and outside elevators, installing touchless sensor buttons, or enlarging some buttons to allow for elbow activation. Education targeted at elevator users about the importance of hand hygiene could also help.

I don’t know about you but I think I might just take the stairs instead.

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