Elevator buttons as transmitters

The next time you take an elevator in a hospital, get a little cautious while pressing the buttons. A new study reveals that hospital elevator buttons may be dirtier than toilets.

Scientists from University of Toronto, swabbed 120 elevator buttons and 96 toilet surfaces over separate intervals at 3 tertiary care hospitals on weekdays and weekends to discover if elevators may be considered as a source of bacteria transmission.

For the elevators, swabs were taken from 2 interior buttons (buttons for the ground floor and one randomly selected upper-level floor) and 2 exterior buttons (the “up” button from the ground floor and the “down” button from the upper-level floor). For the toilet surfaces, swabs were taken from the exterior and interior handles of the entry door, the privacy latch, and the toilet flusher. Samples were obtained using standard bacterial collection techniques, followed by plating, culture, and species identification by a technician blind to sample source.

The prevalence of colonization of elevator buttons was 61%  and no significant differences were found in relation to location of the buttons, day of the week, or panel position within the elevator. Coagulase-negative staphylococci were the most common organisms cultured, which are a broad group of species that commensally inhabit the human skin, mucous membranes and vaginal tract. Although they are less virulent than the coagulase-positive S. aureus and almost never pathogenic in healthy individuals, their persistence on hospital surfaces and devices has made them the most common source of bloodstream infections.

Other species like Enterococcus and Pseudomonas were infrequent and no specimens were positive for Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA, or VRE. Results also shown, that elevator buttons had a higher prevalence of colonization than toilet surfaces (61% v. 43%).