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Why You Should Avoid Door Handle Germs
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought increased attention and study around the ways diseases and infections are transmitted. One such transmittal source is fomites. A fomite is an inanimate object that can carry and spread disease and infectious agents. Fomites are an issue in indoor settings where multiple people touch common surfaces.
According to some estimates, people in industrialized nations spend as much as 90 percent of their time indoors. That means people are constantly touching and retouching surfaces, producing fomites in homes, workplaces, health care facilities and schools.
Each contact has the potential to leave behind and pass along droplets from a sneeze or cough. Surfaces also collect particles that people can emit by just talking or exhaling. These droplets can contain a number of illness-inducing germs.
In fact, according to researchers at the University of Colorado, the average person’s hand carries more than 3,000 bacteria from at least 100 species.
A 2016 study at Penn State University included a swab of a local cafe door. Fourteen different colonies of bacteria were living on the knob. Each colony contained more than a million bacteria.
In 2014, a study done by researchers at the University of Arizona showed that just a single doorknob can spread germs throughout office buildings, hotels and health facilities within hours.
In that study, researchers applied samples of a virus to doorknobs and tabletops. Within two to four hours, the virus had been picked up by 40 to 60 percent of workers and visitors in the facilities and could be detected on other frequently touched objects.
More recently, an experiment was conducted in Japan by broadcaster NHK and a team of medical experts that demonstrated how quickly and easily viruses can spread.
There have been a number of differing conclusions on how long COVID-19 can live on surfaces, which surfaces COVID-19 can last on, and whether people can become infected by touching a surface with COVID-19.
When the pandemic began last March, experts were certain that there was ample risk of catching the corona virus through touching infected surfaces. By the summer, the prevailing opinion was that there was no risk at all.
Think of it like this: If you knew a person with COVID-19 just touched a door handle, would you go out of your way to avoid touching it minutes or even hours after they did? You probably would.
And it isn’t just the coronavirus that can be transmitted through fomites. Other diseases and infections you can catch by coming into contact with fomites include:
- Adenovirus, which cause upper respiratory tract and eye infections
- Hand foot and mouth disease, a common infection that causes fever and blisters on the hands, feet, and inside the mouth
- Norovirus, the most common cause of gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the lining of the intestines and the second most common illness in the U.S.
- Rhinovirus, which causes the common cold
- Rotavirus, the most common cause of diarrheal disease in infants and children
Common fomites commonly found inside include:
- Light switches
- Mobile phones
The Centers of Disease Control advises that frequently touched surfaces and objects need routine disinfection. This includes door handles for interior and exterior doors that require users to pull to open. However, commonly touched surfaces like bathroom door handles and other door handles can’t be disinfected after every time they are touched. Other methods of germ avoidance have been debunked as well.
For example, if you use paper towels or a cloth to avoid touching door handles and then put that towel in your pocket or purse, you’re essentially storing the germs and may touch them later. It also doesn’t help to use an article of clothing that you’re wearing, since you’ll likely touch that spot later.
Wearing gloves to use doorknobs may not help either. Experts say the material is mostly likely absorbent. Many of the bacteria you touch with gloves will live on that fabric and transfer to your hands when you remove the gloves.
Hand sanitizer is also not as effective as many people think, as it does not kill all germs and infections.
The most effective way to prevent frequently used door handles from becoming fomites is to create a touch free door opener.
This can be done by installing hands-free door openers like StepNpull on all common doors, especially restroom doors. A door foot pull will minimize how often employees touch germ-infested door handles with their hands.