Are hands-free taps a health risk?

23rd of May 2011
Are hands-free taps a health risk?

Controversy has arisen over a report that hands-free electronic taps harbour more germs than manual ones, as reported by ECJ earlier this month.

An infrared tap manufacturer and a microbiologist have reacted to the study, which took at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The study found Legionella growing in 50 per cent of water samples from hands-free taps compared with just 15 per cent of manual taps. And electronic taps harboured twice as many bacteria of any kind than manual taps.

Leo Smith, sales manager of Autotaps which makes infrared sensor tap products, says: " "Bacteria in general are everywhere - on your pen, on your computer keyboard and on your tap. But if you have automatic taps you don't need to touch them whether there is bacteria there or not.

"I have never heard of this report but it is a no brainer: The only way that cross-contamination can be a problem is if you touch the contaminated surface with your hands."

De Stephanie Dancer, consultant microbiologist at NHS Lanarkshire, also has doubts about the findings. "Hospitals are very clued up about Legionnaire's Disease and there are ongoing measures to ensure that it doesn't become established," she said.

But she concedes that taps fitted with sensors are likely to be more complex than standard taps. "This provides opportunities for biofilm formation that could encourage colonisation with a range of environmental bacteria including Legionella spp, because the taps might not be so easily cleaned," she said.

"Furthermore the taps may be programmed to deliver a flow of water for only a short time, and this in itself is a risk. One of the methods we use for controlling Legionella in hospitals is to keep water moving and run the taps for specified lengths of time if they are not being used."

She added that where clinical staff used disinfectant hand gels in preference to soap and water, the sinks might not be used so frequently and this could lead to an accumulation of environmental bacteria in the system.

"I think the message is to make sure that all the relevant tap components are maintained, cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis - and most importantly, that staff wash and dry their hands properly at the appropriate time," she said.



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