Most contaminated item in the home is the bath sponge

More bath sponges (85%) found harbouring bacteria than toilet flush handles (5%). A new study by the Global Hygiene Council has revealed that despite 31% of people thinking that they are not at risk of infection in their home, almost half (45%) of frequently touched items and surfaces could be contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria.

The Dettol Hygiene Home Truths Swabbing Study sampled 20 homes in each of the following five countries, India (Delhi), South Africa (Johannesburg), UAE (Dubai), UK (London) and USA (New York) to identify levels of potentially harmful bacteria present on a range of household items and surfaces. The study found that globally 92% of kitchen cloths / sponges sampled failed microbiological tests, as they were contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), which can cause food poisoning, and Staphylococcus aureus, (S. aureus), which can result in skin and wound infections, as well as food poisoning.

In South Africa, 64% of all samples taken were satisfactory and 13% were spotless, meaning 77% passed the microbiological tests, however, South Africa’s bathroom body sponges/ flannels were the most contaminated items/ surfaces tested in the country, with 85% of samples failing the microbiological tests. E. coli were found on 25% of bathroom body sponges/ flannels and Pseudomonas spp. was found on 35%.

The second most contaminated item/ surface in South Africa was the kitchen cloth/ sponge, with 75% of samples being heavily contaminated/ poor or unsatisfactory. 90% of South African kitchen counters and kitchen taps passed the microbiological tests, and interestingly, 90% of respondents claimed they clean/ disinfect their kitchen counter at least once a day, illustrating how effective cleaning/ disinfection can be in helping to decrease the presence of potentially harmful bacteria.

The three least contaminated items /surfaces in South Africa were the mobile telephone/ cellphone/ landline, the kitchen light switch and the refrigerator door handle. 100% of these items were found to be spotless or satisfactory.

In a supplementary survey of 16,000 adults across 16 countries, including South Africa, a gap between where people think bacteria are lurking and where they are actually found was identified. Only 29% of respondents considered the bathroom body sponge / flannel as one of the most likely contaminated items. However, it was the second most contaminated item tested in the Hygiene Home Truths Swabbing study, with 74% failing microbiological tests and more than half (52%) of these appearing to be in good condition / new or visibly clean.

Local Global Hygiene Council member Dr Kgosi Letlape commented, “It is apparent that there is a lack of knowledge with regards to where germs can be found within the home. If people are unaware of where germs are, then they will not know how to prevent the spread of infection and hygiene measures are likely to be inadequate. I urge members of the public in South Africa to help safeguard themselves and their families from these often preventable infections by simply washing their hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and clean water, cleaning and disinfecting hand and food contact surfaces in the home, and taking appropriate care of kitchen cloths/ sponges and bathroom sponges/ flannels, by cleaning and disinfecting them or changing them regularly.”

Encouragingly, 72% of respondents said they always wash their hands before and after preparing food, yet almost a third admitted to rarely or never washing their hands after coughing and sneezing (27% and 5% respectively) and 16% reported failing to always wash their hands after going to the toilet. The survey also found that three quarters (75%) of respondents clean their home with the intention of removing dirt and killing germs, however just 43% use a product proven to do this.

The combined results of the swabbing study and survey highlight the need for improved awareness of the health risks within the home. This lack of awareness is reinforced by respondents’ poor knowledge regarding where bacteria such as E. coli can be found within the home; 68% were unaware that E. coli can be found in the kitchen and bathroom and 43% do not know where E. coli can be found at all.

Professor John Oxford, Chairman of the Hygiene Council and Professor of Virology at Barts and The London School of Dentistry commented, “It is clear from our latest study that sadly the home is no safe haven from germs, and despite our best intentions we still need to improve our hygiene levels. It is also evident from this study that visible cleanliness is not an indicator of a lack of microbial contamination on an item or surface. The good news is by targeting our hygiene efforts on food contact surfaces and other frequently touched surfaces and objects in the home, as well as handwashing with soap and clean water at key times, we can help to break the chain of infection and stop the spread of infectious diseases within the home.”

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