Bacteria-Infested Electronic Faucets Make Hand-Washing A Dirty Job

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Who could have predicted technology would make washing our hands such a dirty business?

A new study of automatic faucets — the type with electronic sensors which detect movement and dispense just the right amount of water — shows they may be more hospitable to bacteria than the traditional manually-operated faucets.

Dr. Emily Sydnor, lead researcher at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, tells KNX 1070 the findings have spurred the removal of all such faucets in clinical areas at the hospital.

The study conducted by Sydnor and her team compared water samples from 20 newly installed electronic faucets and 20 manual faucets from across three hospital wards over a six-week period beginning in December 2008.

Half of the 108 water cultures taken from the electronic faucets were found to have grown the bacterium which causes Legionnaire’s disease, while only 15% of the manual faucets were contaminated.

While the findings have sparked renewed controversy, the study is not the first to uncover health issues with electronic faucets: a 2001 study described one hands-free model as “a continuing source of bacteria potentially hazardous to patients”.

Hospitals and other medical facilities are especially at risk from the faucets’ low bacterial resistance, as patients are often more vulnerable to exposure to any bacteria.

Also, as patients visit the same sink repeatedly throughout their stay, their risk of exposure increases with every use.

However, Sydnor is quick to downplay any suggestion that the dirty faucets should deter people from washing their hands.

“I will say in general everyone should keep washing their hands, and this probably doesn’t have any implication for the lay public who’s healthy and out in public settings,” said Sydnor.

Sydnor adds the findings are likely more relevant for medical personnel than for the average person.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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