Leading European microbiologists and hospital hygienists* have produced a scientific consensus statement recognising evidence that hand drying using paper towels is associated with lower numbers of microbes on the hands and in the washroom environment than using warm air dryers or high velocity air dryers. The consensus statement provides sound advice for all those working in environments responsible for upholding the highest standards of hygiene. The consensus statement is one of the initiatives undertaken by ETS to promote the use of paper towels amongst a wide range of audiences concerned. Not only the healthcare community, the cleaning and hospitality industry, but also other professional manufacturing workplaces (such as food).
The six experts, working in hospitals and universities in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the UK have signed an eight-point consensus statement - Hand drying: an important part of hand hygiene. It highlights the importance of hand drying, following thorfough hand washing and notes that air drying blows water containing microbes off the hands which can contaminate others in the washroom environment.
"From the results we have examined, it appears that there may be a greater risk of exposure to microbes associated with some types of hand driers. There was an increased level of microbial contamination on and beneath air driers, particularly jet air driers. These findings have implications for the prevention of spread of microbes and infections, that should be explored further by the medical community and beyond", says Marc Van Ranst, professor in virology and chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Leuven in Belgium. (To view the video with Prof. Marc Van Ranst on the Consensus Statement click here)
Signatories to the consensus statement examined a wide selection of scientific literature and also the studies sponsored by the European Tissue Symposium in particular those undertaken by Eurofins-Inlab in Germany and the University of Westminster in the UK.**
Hand hygiene is recognised as the most important standard measure to prevent cross contamination or transmission of nosocomial hospital acquired infections. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the use of paper towels in its poster on hand washing. The consensus statement will hopefully prompt further research and steer policy guidance not only in healthcare settings, but also in other workplaces and in the washrooms of high-traffic public venues such as sports stadia, schools and airports.
"Paper tissue absorbs water and microorganisms," said Roberto Berardi, chairman of the European Tissue Symposium. "It is crucial that all concerned adopt a method of hand drying that minimises the risk of re-contaminating the hands and blowing microbes onto yourself, others or surfaces around you. This scientific consensus statement is an important step in supporting our efforts to promote paper towels as the most hygienic hand-drying solution in clinical settings and beyond."
Professor Silvio Brusaferro, MD, Professor of public health, University of Udine, Italy
Professor Bertil Kaijser, MD, Professor and Senior Consultant clinical bacteriology, Sahlgrens University, Sweden
Dr. Ralf Kämmerer, Senior expert at TUV Rhineland, Germany
Keith Redway, Senior academic in microbiology, department of biomedical sciences, University of Westminster, UK
Prof. dr. Marc Van Ranst, Professor of Virology and chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Leuven in Belgium
Professor Mark Wilcox, MD, Consultant microbiologist, Leeds Teaching hospitals, UK and Professor of Medical Microbiology at the University of Leeds (Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine), and is the Lead on Clostridium difficile for Public Health England (PHE).
Full consensus statement
Hand drying: an important part of hand hygiene - Conclusions reached by a panel of European scientists from panel meeting held 20 March 2013
- The importance of hand washing to prevent spread of infection is widely accepted by scientists. However, hand drying has received much less attention.
- Some microbes remain on the hands after washing, and these are more easily spread around if hands are not dried adequately.
- Proper hand drying completes the hand washing process by reducing the risk of transmission of microbes.
- Generally available hand drying methods in public washrooms are based on either water absorption (single use paper and textile towels) or water dispersal by several ways (warm air dryers, high velocity air dryers).
- There is evidence that hand drying using towels is associated with lower numbers of microbes both on the hands and in the washroom environment than using warm air dryers or high velocity air dryers.
- Warm air dryers are less efficient than other methods at drying the hands. Damp hands are more likely to transfer microbes.
- High velocity air dryers are particularly likely to spread microbes because they blow water that contains microbes off the hands. These microbes could contaminate the user, other persons and the washroom environment.
- These points have implications for the prevention of spread of microbes and potential infection, especially in settings where hygiene is very important. Therefore, the choice of hand drying methods should take into account the risk of contaminating the hands, other individuals or the environment