Health chiefs are warning Christmas shoppers to massively step up their hand hygiene after a public health study identified thousands of bacteria lurking on self-service screens and handrails - including E. coli.
Illnesses such as Norovirus and flu generally spike during the winter but with festive shoppers now opting for speedy self-service checkouts and ordering systems the potential for wider infections is on the rise too.
In a recent experiment, scientists from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine analysed 19 swabs from a range of everyday objects - such as escalator handrails, self-service checkouts and public toilet door handles - and found an eye-opening array of ‘bacterial loads’.
What bacteria did the study find?
- E. coli - a bacteria that can lead to a range of gastro-intestinal illnesses – was present on almost all objects investigated.
- Candida albicans, a bug commonly found in the vagina, mouth, throat and gut, which has the potential to cause a yeast infection, was discovered on an escalator handrail.
- Enterococcus, which is found in human faeces, was found in self-checkout samples.
- Microbes that can lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs) were discovered on swabs taken at self-service points.
- Intestinal microbes that can cause a range of infections in humans, including UTIs were found on computer keyboards.
Dr Adam Roberts, from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: “The self-checkout samples had one of the highest bacterial loads, as we found five different types of potential disease-causing bacteria surviving on them. This included Enterococcus which is found in human faeces and, while this is usually harmless, it can of course lead to disease, particularly in those who may have weakened immune systems.
“We found multiple examples of E. coli and a bacteria called Klebsiella on computer keyboards. While both exist naturally in faeces and intestines, given the right environment, they are able to cause quite severe diseases in humans, so it’s vital that we wash our hands before and after eating when working at the computer.”
What can we do to prevent infection?
The NHS ‘The Simple Things’ campaign urges people to practise four key measures to prevent the spread of winter illness – hand washing, sanitising surfaces, keeping distance when unwell and covering sneezes or coughs.