World Health Organization and EU hand hygiene guidelines state that if electric hand dryers are used, they should not aerosolize pathogens. Previous studies have investigated the dispersal by different hand-drying devices of chemical indicators, fungi and bacteria on the hands. This study assessed the aerosolization and dispersal of virus on the hands to determine any differences between hand-drying devices in their potential to contaminate other occupants of public washrooms and the washroom environment.
A suspension of MS2, an Escherichia coli bacteriophage virus, was used to artificially contaminate the hands of participants prior to using three different hand-drying devices: jet air dryer, warm air dryer, paper towel dispenser. Virus was detected by plaque formation on agar plates layered with the host bacterium. Vertical dispersal of virus was assessed at a fixed distance (0.4 m) and over a range of different heights (0.0 – 1.8 m) from the floor. Horizontal dispersal was assessed at different distances of up to three metres from the hand-drying devices.
Virus aerosolization and dispersal was also assessed at different times up to 15 minutes after use by means of air sampling at two distances (0.1 and 1.0 m) and at a distance behind and offset from each of the hand-drying devices.
Over a range of heights, the jet air dryer was shown to produce over 60 times greater vertical dispersal of virus from the hands than a warm air dryer and over 1300 times greater than paper towels; the maximum being detected between 0.6 and 1.2 metres from the floor. Horizontal dispersal of virus by the jet air dryer was over 20 times greater than a warm air dryer and over 190 times greater than paper towels; virus being detected at distances of up to three metres. Air sampling at three different positions from the hand-drying devices 15 minutes after use showed that the jet air dryer produced over 50-times greater viral contamination of the air than a warm air dryer and over 110-times greater than paper towels.
Due to their high air speed, jet air dryers aerosolize and disperse more virus over a range of heights, greater distances, and for longer times than other hand drying devices. If hands are inadequately washed, they have a greater potential to contaminate other occupants of a public washroom and the washroom environment.
Jet air dryers with claimed air speeds of over 600 kph have a greater potential than warm air dryers or paper towels to aerosolize and disperse viruses on the hands of users.
The choice of hand-drying device should be carefully considered. Jet air dryers may increase the risk of transmission of human viruses, such as norovirus, particularly if hand washing is inadequate.