Canadian elevator buttons just might hold the key to a return in popularity for the “anti-microbial” cleaning products industry.
Recently, three doctors in Toronto wrote a little study about the bacteria they found on hospital elevator buttons. The great washed public, reading that report (or scary reports about that report — maybe scarier than the one you are reading right now), might develop a renewed yearning for products that claim to wipe out scary bugs.
So-called bacteria-killing soaps, lotions, and other cleaners no longer have the glow of robust commercial enthusiasm they enjoyed, for a time, with ‘Arthur S. Public,’ ‘Arthur T. Public,’ and other members of the Public family. Scientists’ warnings, and then FDA frownings, led many consumers to pay more attention to the nasty aspects of germ-destroying cleaning products. Used improperly, these products can have a wide-ranging side effect that’s literally a killer: They can nudge dangerous bacteria to develop a resistance to — and so render ineffective — the antibiotic drugs that literally save people’s lives.
The study, called, “Elevator buttons as unrecognized sources of bacterial colonization in hospitals,” was written by Christopher E. Kandel, Andrew E. Simor, and Donald A. Redelmeier. It appears in the journal Open Medicine (vol. 8, no. 3, 2014). Doctors Kandel, Simor, and Redelmeier report:
A total of 120 elevator buttons and 96 toilet surfaces were swabbed over separate intervals at 3 tertiary care hospitals on weekdays and weekends in Toronto, Ontario. For the elevators, swabs were taken from 2 interior buttons (buttons for the ground floor and one randomly selected upper-level floor) and 2 exterior buttons (the “up” button from the ground floor and the “down” button from the upper-level floor). For the toilet surfaces, swabs were taken from the exterior and interior handles of the entry door, the privacy latch, and the toilet flusher…. Elevator buttons had a higher prevalence of colonization than toilet surfaces (61% v. 43%, p = 0.008).
The report eventually does ease up, saying: “Hospital elevator buttons were commonly colonized by bacteria, although most pathogens were not clinically relevant.” Bacteria, you almost certainly know, live on pretty much every surface you encounter, everywhere, every day. Most of them do no harm to people. And you, yourself, are part bacteria — about a trillion bacteria, give or take several hundred billion, live inside or on you.