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Paper towels should be the preferred way to dry hands after washing to reduce the risk of coronavirus contamination and spread, according to UK researchers.
They said they had found that using paper towels was substantially more effective than jet dryers for removing microbes when still-contaminated hands were dried.
“We believe that our results are relevant to the control of the novel coronavirus that is spreading at pace worldwide”
The study (see PDF of abstract attached below) was carried out by Dr Ines Moura, from the University of Leeds, and Duncan Ewin and Professor Mark Wilcox, from the university and also Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
They noted that drying was important to minimise the spread of microbes, including coronavirus, since failure to do so increased transfer to surfaces and opportunities for transmission and spread.
In their small study, the authors from Yorkshire investigated whether there were differences in virus transmission from the toilet to the hospital environment, according to hand drying method.
Four volunteers simulated contamination of their hands using a bacteriophage – a virus that infects bacteria and so is harmless to humans.
Their hands were not washed after contamination in order to simulate inadequately washed hands. Hands were then dried using either paper towels or a jet air dryer.
Each volunteer wore an apron, to enable measurement of body and clothing contamination during hand drying.
Hand drying was performed in a hospital public toilet and, after exiting, samples were collected from public and ward areas.
The team found that both drying methods statistically significantly reduced virus contamination of hands.
Meanwhile, for 10 out of the 11 surfaces monitored, they found significantly greater environmental contamination was detected after jet air dryer versus paper towel use.
All surfaces sampled following jet air dryer use showed phage contamination, compared with only six surfaces after paper towel use.
“Paper towels should be the preferred way to dry hands after washing and so reduce the risk of virus contamination and spread”
Average surface contamination following hand contact was more than 10 times higher after jet air dryer versus paper towel use, said the researchers from Leeds.
In addition, viral dispersal to apron or clothing was five-fold higher with jet air dryer compared to paper towels, they said.
The authors stated: “There are clear differences, according to hand drying method, in the residual microbial contamination of the subject’s hands and body.
“Crucially, these differences in contamination translate into significantly greater levels of microbe contamination after jet air drying versus paper towel use from hands and body beyond the toilet.
“As public toilets are used by patients, visitors and staff, the hand drying method chosen has the potential to increase or reduce pathogen transmission in hospital settings,” they said.
They also noted their findings had particular importance because there had been a general move from paper towels to hand dryers in many settings, especially within UK healthcare environments.
This was despite both NHS guidance and World Health Organization hand washing guidelines recommending use of a paper towel to dry hands.
The study authors concluded: “We believe that our results are relevant to the control of the novel coronavirus that is spreading at pace worldwide.
“Paper towels should be the preferred way to dry hands after washing and so reduce the risk of virus contamination and spread,” they added.
The research was originally due to be presented at this year’s European Congress on Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Paris this month.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the event was cancelled. However, the congress organisers decided to publish an abstract book containing the studies that would have been presented.