Elevator buttons as unrecognized sources of bacterial colonization in hospitals
A study published in 2014 by the University of Toronto, analysed lift buttons and toilet washroom surfaces at 3 large urban teaching hospitals located in Toronto, Ontario.
The researchers found (perhaps because lift buttons are frequently used and only periodically cleaned): “Elevator buttons had higher colonization rates than toilet surfaces in the same buildings.”
This news article (Daily Mail, 2015) highlights research by the Centre for Superbug Solutions at the University of Queensland comparing bacterial contamination of typical office items.
Interestingly, swabs taken from the outside elevator button showed less bacterial loading than the buttons inside the elevator: “Some of the germiest surfaces were a mobile phone screen, a computer keyboard and a kitchen bench, while door handles, desks and chairs were much cleaner,” Dr Elliott said.
In a different study, it was found that a single contaminated doorknob or elevator button can spread virus rapidly through entire office buildings, hotels or hospitals.
Using bacteriophage MS-2 as a surrogate for Norovirus, Charles Gerba and his researchers found that contamination of just one single doorknob or table top results in the spread of viruses throughout office buildings, hotels, and health care facilities.
Within 2 to 4 hours, the virus could be detected on 40 to 60 percent of workers and visitors in the facilities and commonly touched objects.
American Society for Microbiology. “How quickly viruses can contaminate buildings — from just a single doorknob.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 September 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140908093640.htm>.
These findings led to a further study, published in final edited form May 2016, investigating spread from a single person’s hands versus a single door push-plate, and efficacy of intervention measures to combat viral spread.
A bundle of good hand sanitation practice, cleaning and educational display material was found to be effective at reducing contamination on personal and communal fomites (See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4676746/ for details).
Make a material change – go copper!
Abundant data from laboratory testing and in-situ clinical studies around the world shows that touch-surface items made from copper and copper alloys have a consistently lower microbial burden than standard items, without change to cleaning regimes or human behaviour. See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26163568
Copper / copper-alloy materials are very effective, especially under typical indoor conditions, at killing pathogens quickly and completely.
Use of copper materials for touch surfaces is recommended as an adjunct to hand hygiene and cleaning, to provide a greater degree of protection, between touches and between cleans.
The US EPA has registered over 500 copper alloys as able to make public health benefit claims relating to touch surfaces.
No other metal, not even silver, can make that claim.
Bacteria (gram +ve or gram -ve), viruses, yeasts and fungi (including spores) are proven to die rapidly on copper / copper-alloy materials, with destruction of DNA (including plasmids) evident within seconds of contact on these metals.
See this translational science article for a good overview and source of scientific references
No other material, such as silver-containing coatings, comes close to copper’s antimicrobial efficacy: particularly under typical indoor conditions: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2779462/
*image: Elevator button made from CuNi 90/10 (CW352H) copper alloy, which has good corrosion resistance and similar fabrication properties to stainless steel, yet offers lifetime efficacy against microbes.