Cloth towels health risk

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By Communications Staff
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Everyone remembers being told endlessly by parents to “wash your hands" after using the washroom, after blowing your nose, before you eat….well, years of scientific research have proved that Mom and Dad were right.

Thousands of bacteria and viruses, including those as deadly as SARS are deposited on our hands after we touch something contaminated with them.

After that, merely by touching any surface, we may transfer them to thousands of other people. Or, we simply touch our faces or put a piece of food in our mouths and there's a good chance we will get sick.

Illness causes mild to intense discomfort, absenteeism at school and work, less time spent with family and friends, and occasionally in serious or even fatal complications.

The good news is that we can decrease this transfer of organisms dramatically by simply washing our hands after we use the washroom, eat, blow our noses, play with a pet, have contact with a sick person, or after any other activity that we think might involve the transfer of microorganisms.

But something that research has discovered is that hand drying is as important as hand washing in decreasing the transfer of bacteria and viruses.

Studies have shown that even after washing, many thousands more bacteria are transferred from damp or wet hands than from dry hands. Consequently, when we wash our hands, and then wipe them on our clothing or touch another surface, we are transferring thousands of bacteria and viruses.

This can be greatly reduced simply by thoroughly drying our hands.

Cloth towels are located in many washrooms throughout Western's campus. They were installed across the campus about 20 years ago.

We would like to see these cloth towel dispensers removed from the washrooms at Western, particularly in the Health Science Buildings, and replaced with paper towel dispensers.

Cloth towels are not recommended for use in healthcare facilities. Continuous roll cloth towels or end of roll towel sections can become communal sources of bacterial growth.

These cloth towels are often found damp, dirty and lying on the floor. This causes two problems: first, using wet towels is not effective for drying hands and may cause bacteria to be transferred from the towels to our hands.

Secondly, people may be reluctant to use cloth towels that are lying on the floor, and consequently do not dry (or even wash) their hands.

Experts prefer paper towels as the most hygienic means of hand drying. Paper towels are very effective because they rub away bacteria, viruses and dead skin cells from the outer skin layers, and also remove bacteria from deeper skin layers through friction.

Another very important feature of paper towels is that after drying, they can be used to turn off the faucet handles and open the door to avoid cross-contaminating our hands.

The use of paper towels has been cited as an environmental issue; however, significant reductions in the spread of serious illness may outweigh this issue, particularly in facilities where recycling is an option.

Hand drying is extremely important following hand washing in reducing the spread of bacteria and viruses that cause illness. Everyone responsible for his or her own health and hygiene.

We all deserve access to the most effective method of hand drying available in order to prevent the spread of illness.

This article was written by RNs Mary Holden, Lori Jennings, Amy MacLean, Cathy Pressey, Tuesday Sutherland and Gale Zottl.

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