One of the main justifications for hands-free faucets may have just been taken through the wringer by a recent Johns Hopkins School of Medicine report. While one might reasonably expect manual faucets to be germier than those of the hands-free variety on account of all sorts of grubby hands coming into contact with the handle, the team in fact concluded that the opposite may be the case.
For the study, which was presented today in Dallas at the annual meeting of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, Sydnor and her team examined 20 newly installed electronic faucets and 20 manual faucets spread out over three hospital wards. They took water samples from each faucet over a six-week period beginning in December 2008. They also dismantled and cultured four of the electronic faucets.
Of the 108 water cultures taken from the electronic faucets, half were found to have grown the bacterium Legionella spp., which causes Legionnaire’s disease. Only 15% of the manual faucets were contaminated.
The Hopkins study’s conclusions were stark enough for Johns Hopkins Hospital to remove all hands-free faucets from clinical areas.
The apparent culprit: The internal structures of the faucets. Electronic faucets are more complex than traditional faucets, and have five additional parts within: All five of these parts were found to have a higher-than-average bacteria count.
But don’t freak out too much the next time you’re in an airport bathroom: While doctors treating sick patients are advised against using hands-free faucets, the group behind the study says that healthy people have little to fear from them.