Hotels: Never Touch These 4 Things!
A traveler's best friend may be a container of disinfectant wipes.
Researchers from the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville have determined that adults who are infected with rhinovirus, the cause of half of all colds, may contaminate many objects used in daily life, leaving an infectious gift for others who follow them--especially in hotels.
The items in a hotel room that are most commonly covered in germs are the television remote control, telephone, light switches and faucets.
While most of us are aware that cold germs can easily travel from skin-to-skin contact, it's a common assumption that such germs can't live long on hard surfaces. That's not completely true, according to lead study author Dr. Owen Hendley, professor of pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the UVa Health System.
For the first part of this study, people who had rhinovirus colds were recruited to spend five hours awake in hotel rooms before going to bed and two hours awake in their rooms the next morning. The volunteers had no visitors and were asked to wash their hands only after using the bathroom. At the time of check out, participants were asked to identify objects they had touched. After they left, 10 of the touched objects in the subject's room were tested for the presence of rhinovirus. Fully 35 percent of the objects had residual virus, demonstrating that people with colds do not have to be present for their germs to linger. "To my surprise, in a hotel room occupied overnight by an adult with a cold, everything from television remote controls, telephones, light switches and faucets were contaminated with rhinovirus," said Hendley.
In order to infect an individual, germs must reach the eyes or the nose, usually by way of a person's own fingers. So researchers then set out to learn if germs lingering in the environment can make the leap from surfaces to fingers.
To test this theory, the research team invited six of the participants to return to the same hotel several months later. This time, virus-containing mucus that was taken and stored from the time the participants had their earlier colds was used to contaminate two sets of light switches, telephone key pads and telephone handsets in two different rooms. In one room, the mucus was allowed to dry for one hour. In the second room, the mucus dried overnight. The participants were asked to dial phone numbers, hold the handsets and flip on light switches in both rooms. Alarmingly, 60 percent of the contacts with contaminated objects that dried for an hour resulted in rhinovirus transfer to fingertips, while 33 percent of contacts with objects that dried overnight resulted in rhinovirus transfer to fingertips.
"While transmission of rhinovirus through dried nasal mucus on surfaces is not efficient, people still should understand that the virus remains available for transfer at least one day," said Hendley. "The next time you stay in a hotel, knowing that rhinovirus may be left from the last guest, you may wonder how meticulous the clean up crew was in their work."
And that goes for your home, too, when someone in your household gets a cold.
The study findings were presented at the 2006 Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, in San Francisco, Calif.
--From the Editors at Netscape