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Hospital Elevator Buttons Are A Hotbed For Bacteria

Hospital Elevator Buttons Are A Hotbed For Bacteria


When discussing cross-contamination problems in hospitals, it is often the little things that get left out of the picture. With one in every 25 patients developing a hospital-acquired infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, finding these hidden sources is a critical issue.

Seemingly innocuous objects like computer keyboards and divider curtains are active sources of bacteria. A 2014 report published in Open Medicine looked at the cross-contamination potential of elevator buttons in hospitals and came up with some telling data.

The Elevator Study

The report’s authors swabbed 120 elevator buttons in hospitals around Toronto, Ontario. The swabs focused on the ground floor button and one for an upper level at each site. They also took samples from the up and down button outside of the elevator.

The researchers found:

  • Bacteria on 61 percent of the elevator buttons
  • There was no difference in the amount of bacteria on the various buttons
  • Coagulase-negative staphylococcus was the most common form of bacteria found on the buttons.

As part of the study, the authors took samples from toilet surfaces, as well, to make a comparison. The swabs from the elevator buttons produced more growth than that of the toilets.

Elevators Outside of Hospitals

This is not the only study that focuses on cross-contamination issues with elevators. Scientists from the University of Arizona did a similar study using the elevators in restaurants, offices, hotels and airports. They found these elevators were active for:

  • E-coli
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • MRSA

The study author speculated that on average an elevator button might be touched by dozens of people every hour, so the potential of cross-contamination was high.

Other Potential Contamination Sites

Elevator buttons are not the only sites that increase the risk of infection in hospitals.

  • Neckties
  • Lab coats
  • Stethoscopes
  • Mobile phones
  • Tablet computers

Studies show these are all sources of bacteria in a hospital environment.

Reducing the Risks

The problem is even with regular cleaning, surfaces like elevator buttons will carry bacteria. Improving hygiene by placing hand sanitizer dispensers on or near elevators will help. Enhancing hand washing education to teaching hospital personnel to focus on their fingertips will also bring down the risk.

Cross-contamination is a prevalent problem in hospitals, one that costs both lives and money. Identifying previously unnoticed carrier sites take the healthcare community step closer to controlling this problem.

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