Where germs hide in the hospital

Why you shouldn't touch hospital elevator buttons

Buttons in hospital elevators harbor more bacteria than the surfaces of hospital toilets, according to a new study in the journal Open Medicine.

For the study, three physicians swabbed 120 interior and exterior elevator buttons and 96 handles of bathroom door stalls and toilet flush handles at three hospitals in Toronto over at 10-day period. After the samples were tested, researchers found the "prevalence of colonization (with bacteria) of elevator buttons was 61%," compared to 43% on toilet surfaces.

But neither surface was as dirty as hospital computer keyboards, researchers say.

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Researchers noted that the levels of bacteria may be higher or lower at other times of the year, since the study was conducted during a cold season when people were more likely to be wearing gloves. In addition, the samples were taken during flu season when people are more likely to take extra precautions about handwashing, but also when hospitals experience higher volumes.

Still, the kind of bacteria researchers found on elevator buttons had "low pathogenicity," meaning the bacteria were unlikely to make people sick.

"Patients remain at potential risk of cross-contamination because of the frequent use of these buttons by diverse individuals," the study authors wrote, adding, "a visitor is more likely to come into contact with an elevator button or a toilet than with inanimate hospital equipment and may transmit organisms if interacting with inpatients."

Study IDs dirtiest surfaces in U.S.

The researchers recommend that hospitals place hand sanitizer stations outside elevators, enlarge elevator buttons so they can be pushed with elbows, or make elevator commands touchless (Belluz, Vox, 7/10; Davidson, Toronto Sun, 7/8; Infection Control Today, 7/9).

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