Hand railings for stairs and escalators at hospitals have more than 3,000 times more germs than the railings of stairs and escalators at MRT stations, the New Taipei City (新北市) Public Health Department says.
Department staff conducted a random sampling last month from 10 of the most widely visited public locations or commonly used items, ranking them by the amount of residual bacteria left on hands.
Disease control chief Lee Chia-chi (李佳琪) said on Wednesday that the samples were taken from locations or items that can be encircled by one hand, such as hand railings in hospitals, table edges at restaurants, park facilities and benches, scooter handles and hand straps on public transport as well as computer keyboards and mice and smartphone screens.
None of the locations or items sampled was bacteria or germ free, Lee said, adding that almost all of them had a residual bacteria count amounting to several hundreds.
Hand railings at hospitals topped the list of the highest residual bacteria and germ counts with 120,000, while restaurant table edges came in second with 8,990 and park facilities placed third with a count of 6,750, the department’s report said.
Scooter handles came in fourth place with a figure of 6,280, while hand straps on the MRT and buses had a count of 120, the report said.
The only locations where bacteria residual amounts were below 100 were park benches and MRT escalator railings.
However, the report also said residual bacteria could be eliminated by washing hands properly after touching such items.
Developing the habit of washing one’s hands often when out in public — as well as washing them properly — is the main avenue for avoiding influenza viruses such as influenza A virus subtype H7N9 and the enterovirus, Lee said.
China is battling an outbreak of the H7N9 avian influenza virus, with 130 confirmed cases as of Wednesday last week and 31 deaths. A Taiwanese businessman who had traveled in China became the first reported victim in Taiwan. Person-to-person infection in H7N9 is suspected, but not yet proven.
It is a good habit to wash one’s hands immediately after leaving a hospital to lower the risks of being infected, Lee said.
Medical-grade alcohol can kill off the H7N9 influenza virus, but it is not as effective as bleach when it comes to disinfecting for enterovirus, Lee said, adding that such a disinfectant can easily be made at home.
Adding about 20cc of bleach to a 2 liter bottle of water should provide a solution that is concentrated enough for disinfecting, without posing a health hazard, Lee said.