The next time your doctor hands you your discharge plan, you may want to wear gloves. It turns out that paper—one of the surfaces in hospitals that can't be scrubbed, disinfected and sanitized—is quite good at holding on to nasty bacteria.
Outliers: A problem you can't paper over
Researchers from universities in Germany and Austria contaminated pieces of office paper with several forms of bacteria, including E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus. They then used volunteers who pressed their bacteria-laden fingertips onto sterile pieces of paper to test transmission.
The bugs survived for several days on paper and were easily transferred to other surfaces by hand, the researchers found. Like many infection control-related problems, the best defense, not surprisingly, is handwashing, they say.
“Our research shows that bacteria can be transferred to paper, survive on it and subsequently contaminate hands,” the authors wrote in the study, which appeared in the December issue of the American Journal of Nursing. “Paper, therefore, can serve as a vehicle for the cross-contamination of bacterial pathogens if current recommendations on hand hygiene aren't meticulously followed.”
The cringe-worthy results of the study may provide yet another reason to consider electronic medical records. And it will also probably make Outliers think twice before reaching for that waiting-room copy of People magazine.
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