If you've used an elevator recently, you may want to go wash your hands—stat. A new study published in the journal Open Medicine shows that elevator buttons in hospitals have more bacteria than surfaces in public bathrooms in hospitals.
The researchers took swabs from 120 different elevator buttons and 96 toilet surfaces in three different hospitals and found that 61 percent of elevator buttons tested were colonized with bacteria, compared to 43 percent of the toilet surfaces tested. Ew!
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While the study was limited to hospitals, the alarming (and might we add, gross) results hold true no matter where you are, confirms Chuck Gerba, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and environmental sciences at University of Arizona's College of Public Health, who has found as much as 100 times more bacteria on an elevator button than a toilet seat.
"Actually, 48 percent of women wipe a public toilet seat or put paper down before they sit, which makes them pretty darn clean," he says. Another surprising fact: The first floor button in any elevator is by far the worst because everyone has to touch it to get out of the building, Gerba says.
Of course, the presence of highly antibiotic resistant germs makes hospitals more dangerous than every day locations, says germ expert Philip M. Tierno, Jr., Ph.D., professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU School of Medicine, but the tips for protecting yourself remain the same. "It is imperative to properly wash your hands before eating or drinking, or touching your eyes, nose, mouth, or cuts," Tierno says. While washing, remember to pay particular attention to fingertips—which are notoriously dirty.
And if you really want to be cautious, don't use your finger tips at all, Gerba advises. "I'm a knuckle elevator guy," he says.