We’ve all been there – using our foot, elbow or paper towel to open a public door in a bid to “save” ourselves from infection.
Consider the Bradley Corporation’s Hand Washing Survey findings on the innovative ways individuals avoid germ-prone surfaces in public restrooms.
If statistics are anything to go by, we probably should be paranoid about touching public door handles.
Alberta Health reveals that our hands alone spread 80 per cent of common infections. The company also estimates that only 34 per cent of people wash their hands after sneezing and coughing, making it extremely easy to pass on spreadable infectious diseases such as the common cold.
Furthermore, Initial Washroom Hygiene reported only 60 per cent of women and 38 per cent of men wash their hands after going to the toilet. The survey also revealed that one in four office workers don’t wash their hands after using the washroom at work.
How much more bacteria-laden can our public areas get?
The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a University of Arizona study of 80 office employees within a building.
The researchers contaminated a push-plate door at the building entrance with a virus called bacteriophage MS-2. While it doesn’t infect, it mimics the “shape, size and survivability” of a common cold and stomach flu virus. According to the study, it took less than two hours for the "virus" to be spread to common break room items such as the coffee pot and refrigerator door handle. It also spread to personal work spaces and restrooms, phones and desks.
When employees were given hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, the virus detection on people’s hands reduce from 39 per cent to 11 per cent.
Even hand washing is not foolproof, as recontamination can occur according to study researcher Dr. Wladimir Alonso.
"There are many opportunities in between hand-washing episodes for people to re-contaminate their hands," he told Live Science.
Alonso and his colleagues conducted a study selecting 249 random people on the Washington, D.C. subway. The researchers observed how often they touched a common surface, followed by their mouth or face.
They found that people touched their faces an average of 3.6 times per hour, and common objects an average of 3.3 times per hour.
While these statistics demonstrate a need for increased education on hand hygiene, a series of bacteria combatting innovations could also be considered.
In the UK, the Pure Hold Hygiene Handle is a sanitising door handle originally developed in conjunction with National Health Service (NHS) infection prevention specialists.
Upon touching the door handle, it automatically releases antibacterial gel, “forcing” users to clean their hands.
Independent tests prove that the Hygiene Handle was 98.5 per cent cleaner than a standard door handle.
It is able to hold up to 1,200 millilitres of gel (along with a reserve reservoir) and its use was should to reduce the prevalence of colony forming unit bacteria by 87 per cent.
The company also considered those with non handle doors, creating a self cleaning “push” surface called NanoTouch.
The surface sticks to door push pads or wraps around handles or push bars and features an oxidising action more powerful than bleach.
Durable, disposable and easy to install, NanoTouch is available in standard sizes that include door push pads, door handle wraps, and push bars.
Test data revealed that the product was “able to kill 100 per cent of E. coli and P. aeruginosa, and 88 per cent of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) after only one hour.”
The UK food industry has tested NanoTouch at several sites and found a reduction in many forms of bacteria of 50 to 85 per cent.
Two Hong Kong high school students have also created a door handle that disinfects itself through the emission of UV light.
Simon Wong and Michael Lee presented their innovation at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2015 in Pittsburgh, PA.
After learning about the bacterial-fighting properties of titanium dioxide, they also found that it works best when fuelled by ultraviolet light.
Recognising that an indoor handle will not receive much - if any - natural exposure to UV light, the duo lit the door handle from within and made it glass so every part of the door handle cam receive light.
“To make sure the interior light reaches the coated surface, the teens fashioned their door handle from a long cylinder of clear glass. Each end fits into a bracket,” Sid Perkins wrote on the Student Science website. “Inside one of the brackets is a strong light-emitting diode (LED). It emits UV light. (Transmitting the light from one end of the handle to the other is similar to the transmission of light through a fiber-optic cable. In this case, though, the glass handle is fat rather than super-thin.)"
The door movement creates power (through a small gearbox) to trigger a “germ-killing reaction” on the handle.
In lab tests, their system killed about 99.8 per cent of the germs that they spread onto lab dishes coated with their material according to an article on Student Science.
The best part? The students anticipate that the handle will cost a mere $13 to manufacture, making it an affordable and appealing solution from residents to the commercial market.
Copper, too, has well-documented antimicrobial properties and an ability to continuously combat bacteria. While stainless steel and plastic may look more appealing, nothing quite kills bacteria the way copper can.
CNN medical correspondent Elizbeth Cohen detailed the process on The Chart.
“Copper is used to transmit electrons in walls for electricity,” she wrote. “Similarly, bacteria will donate electrons to the copper metal, which places the organism in an electrical deficit. As a consequence, free radicals are generated inside the cell. The cell's proteins essentially get bleached, and its DNA get fractured. The electrical potential of the cell also gets collapsed."
A 2011 study, Metallic Copper as an Antimicrobial Surface, reported on a 10-week UK Hospital Study that looked at copper (Cu) and control surfaces in the same ward.
“Bacterial contamination of a copper-coated (70% Cu) composite toilet seat, brass tap handles (60% Cu), and a brass door push plate (70% Cu) was compared against that of equivalent items with plastic, chrome-plated, or aluminium surfaces,” the report read.
“Median numbers of bacteria recovered from surfaces of copper-containing items were between 90% and 100% lower than those from control surfaces. While MRSA and C. difficile were not isolated in this study, methicillin-sensitive S. aureus (MSSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), and E. coli were found only on control surfaces but not on copper surfaces."
Considering that we are moving toward an increasingly shared economy that will see us open the same door to our apartment buildings, offices and favourite local café, awareness is required.
In the meantime, make that antibacterial gel an essential part of your daily routine.