Epidemiology and Infection

Residual moisture determines the level of touch-contact-associated bacterial transfer following hand washing

D. R. PATRICK a1, G. FINDON a1 and T. E. MILLER a1c1
a1 Department of Medicine, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand


We report here a new and critical determinant of the effectiveness of hand hygiene procedures, namely the amount of residual moisture left on the hands after washing and drying. When samples of skin, food and utilities were touched with wet, undried hands, microbial numbers in the order of 68000, 31000 and 1900 respectively translocated to these representative surfaces. Bacterial numbers translocating on touch contact decreased progressively as drying with an air or cloth towel system removed residual moisture from the hands. A 10 s cloth towel–20 s air towel protocol reduced the bacterial numbers translocating to skin, food and utilities on touch contact to 140, 655 and 28 respectively and achieved a 99·8, 94 and 99% reduction in the level of bacterial translocation associated with wet hands. Careful hand drying is a critical factor determining the level of touch-contact-associated bacterial transfer after hand washing and its recognition could make a significant contribution towards improving handcare practices in clinical and public health sectors.

(Accepted August 5 1997)

c1 Author for correspondence: Dr Thomas Miller, Department of Medicine, Auckland Hospital, Private Bag 92-024, Auckland, New Zealand.