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Commuters' hands contaminated with faecal bacteria

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Almost a third of all commuters’ hands are contaminated with faecal bacteria, a study has shown.

A team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine swabbed the hands of 409 commuters at bus stops next to train stations in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Cardiff and Newcastle.

They found that 28 per cent contained faecal bacteria, mostly Enterococcus and E-Coli. Female contamination rates were similar at different sites, but males tended to be more contaminated the further north they lived.

The dirtiest hands belonged to Newcastle men, 53 per cent of whom harboured bacteria, the preliminary study reports.

Higher contamination rates were associated with bus rather than train travel. Surprisingly, manual workers were less likely to have faecal contamination than professionals, students, retired or unemployed people.

‘We were surprised by the very high rates of detection of bacteria of faecal origin on hands,’ the authors note, adding that although not a health hazard in itself, contamination suggests a ‘failure of hygiene.’

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Readers' comments (2)

  • I have been concerned about the subject of fecal contamination and hospital acquired infection for some time. The first time it came to my notice was in one of the very first Which? consumer magazine reports about fifty years ago when the specification of toilet paper was investigated. I believe the most important factor was found to be the thickness and strength of the tissue. Cultures were grown to determine the most effective material.
    I believe there is a paradox at the heart of this matter as the hospital authorities are concerned with HIA but also with providing the most economic tissues. In my own hospital the tissue is like gossamer and I was profoundly shocked to find this was the case. It seems to me obvious that this must be a factor in the spread of hospital acquired infections.
    Maybe for reasons of decorum this matter is not discussed but someone should grasp the nettle and take the action that I think is obviously needed and provide a sensible specification for the toilet paper or at least instigate a study of the matter.
    regards,
    James S Wishart, BA, CEng, MICE,
    23 Palmerston Road, Northampton, NN1 5EU

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  • I would agree with the posted comments and am not surprised by these results of commuters.

    In hospital, my bug bare is doors.

    I think hands (all hands....doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners, patients, visitors and the general public even some of those commuters) all pushing on and opening doors everywhere throughout the hospital are the problem area for spread of infection.

    I suggest infection control swab a few doors in and throughout hospitals to find out what they pick up.
    There may be a few surprises.

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