Have you ever looked at a towel and thought “OMG! I’m going to get sick from using it!”? If you’re old enough to remember the cotton roller towels in public washrooms you’ve likely had that reaction. Have you ever looked at a towel of a family member and wondered if it would make you sick?
I would hazard a guess that most people would think about the potential to pick up germs from high touch surfaces such as refrigerator door handles and the TV remote and most would not consider sharing toothbrushes, but towels? According to a recent study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, sharing personal hygiene items including towels could increase the risk for colonization of antibiotic resistant organisms like MRSA.
Over a course of a year, researchers made several visits to the homes of 150 children treated for MRSA infections. A total of 692 family members, as well as 154 cats and dogs, took part in the study. The researchers swabbed sinks, refrigerator door handles, bathroom , bath towels, bedsheets, light switches, telephones, TVs, video game controllers and computer keyboards and mice. The humans had their nostrils, armpits and groins swabbed, while the animals their noses and backs as this is where they are most often petted. By the end of the study, 3,819 samples were collected and analyzed.
For the children, the of the child with the initial infection were found to be most often contaminated with . The refrigerator door handle was the most contaminated kitchen site; the sink was the most contaminated place in the bathroom and as most would expect, the TV remote was the dirtiest electronic device. From a transmission perspective, the dirtier the house was, if the home was rented and the larger the family size also contributed to the likelihood of additional members of the family becoming infected with MRSA. Surprisingly to the researchers, pets were more likely to catch MRSA from people than visa versa.
Researchers and healthcare providers agree that hand hygiene is the greatest method to stop the spread of disease, however, if a loved one comes home with an infection like MRSA, sharing of personal hygiene items should be avoided as once MRSA is in the home as this study shows it can be easily spread around, picked up by other family members and difficult to get rid of.
The next time you’re at a family members or friends house and use the washroom, will you look at the hand towel in the bathroom in a different light? If it’s wet, will you be wondering how many people have used it before you and what may be on it? I know I will!