Vacation Horrors: The Germiest Places in Hotel Rooms

microbacterial contamination, traveler health
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Hotel room cleanliness is always a concern when selecting a place to stay when you are away from home. Most often, the first things we check are the bathrooms and the bedding. But those spots aren’t often the most contaminated places in the room. A new study presented at the 2012 General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology details which locations to watch out for when staying at a hotel.

For the study, a team of researchers from the University of Houston, Purdue University and the University of South Carolina sampled 19 different surfaces in three hotel rooms from each of their home states (Texas, Indiana, and South Carolina). They tested the levels of total aerobic bacteria (ie: streptococcus and staphylococcus) and coliform (fecal) bacterial contamination on each surface.

Aside from the obvious locations where germs reside – the toilet and the bathroom sink – the most heavily contaminated spots within the hotel room were the TV remote, the telephone keypad, and the bedside lamp switch. Another concerning finding was the high level of contamination on items from the housekeepers’ carts, including sponges and mops which pose a risk for cross-contamination of rooms.

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The surfaces with the lowest contamination levels included the bed headboard, curtain rods, and the bathroom door handle.
Contact with contaminated surfaces is a possible mode of transmission of illness during outbreaks in hotels. Strains of coliform bacteria, for example, can cause gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections, and other health conditions. Hotel guests that are immunocompromised are particularly at risk.

"Hoteliers have an obligation to provide their guests with a safe and secure environment, “ says Katie Kirsch, an undergraduate student at the University of Houston who presented the study at the conference. “"Currently, housekeepers clean 14-16 rooms per 8-hour shift, spending approximately 30 minutes on each room. Identifying high-risk items within a hotel room would allow housekeeping managers to strategically design cleaning practices and allocate time to efficiently reduce the potential health risks posed by microbial contamination in hotel rooms.”

When staying in hotels, guests should keep in mind that bacteria and virus contamination cannot be seen. “A visual assessment can’t tell you about bacteria and viruses,” notes Kirsch. “It can tell you what’s on the surface, but not if it’s been disinfected.” Traveling with sanitizing wipes is a good strategy, so you can wipe surfaces down yourself after you arrive.

Reference:
American Society for Microbiology

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