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Antimicrob Resist Infect Control. 2019 Feb 28;8:47. doi: 10.1186/s13756-019-0500-z. eCollection 2019.

The public washroom - friend or foe? An observational study of washroom cleanliness combined with microbiological investigation of hand hygiene facilities.

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1School of Nursing, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Hong Kong, SAR China.
2Department of Health Technology and Informatics, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Hong Kong, SAR China.



Many people use handwashing and hand-drying facilities in public washrooms under the impression that these amenities are hygienic. However, such facilities may be potential sites for the transmission of pathogenic bacteria. This study aimed to examine the hygiene facilities provided including handwashing and hand-drying facilities in public washrooms. Total bacterial counts and species identification were determined for hand-drying facilities. Antimicrobial susceptibilities were performed.


The bacterial contamination levels of 55 public washrooms ranging in category from low class communities to high end establishments, were examined. The hygienic environment and facilities of the washrooms were analysed using an electronic checklist to facilitate immediate data entry. Pre-moistened sterile swabs were used to collect samples from areas around the outlet of paper towel dispensers, air outlet of air dryers, exit door handles and paper towels in the washrooms. Total bacterial counts were performed and isolates identified using matrix-assisted laser desorption ionisation time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Antimicrobial susceptibility was determined by disk diffusion.


The high and middle-income categories washrooms generally had cleaner facilities and environment followed by those in low categories. Fifty-two bacterial species were identified from the 55 investigated washrooms. Over 97% of the pathogenic Staphylococcus spp. tested were resistant to at least one first-line antimicrobial therapeutic agent, including penicillin, cefoxitin, erythromycin, co-trimoxazole, clindamycin and gentamicin, and 22.6% demonstrated co-resistance to at least three antimicrobial agents, with co-resistance to penicillin, erythromycin and clindamycin being the most common.


Our findings suggest that hand-drying facilities in public washrooms can act as reservoirs of drug-resistant bacteria. The importance of frequent cleaning and maintenance of public washrooms to promote safe hand hygiene practices for the public are emphasised.


Antimicrobial; Bacteria; Environmental microbiology; Hand drying; Hand hygiene; MALDI-TOF MS; Microorganisms; Public health; Toilet; Washroom

Conflict of interest statement

Since this study did not involve human subjects, ethical approval from the human subject ethics subcommittee of the university was not sought.Not applicable.The authors declare that they have no competing interests.Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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