Nils-Olaf Hubner, MD, an infection control consultant for the Institute for Hygiene and Environmental Medicine of the Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald in Germany, and colleagues, sought to determine by laboratory investigation how long bacterial pathogens can survive on office paper and whether bacteria can be transferred from hands to paper and back to hands in a "worst-case scenario." Their research appears in the December 2011 issue of the American Journal of Nursing.
The researchers prepared samples of four bacterial pathogens (Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Enterococcus hirae) according to standard laboratory procedures. Sterile swatches of office paper were inoculated with the pathogens and bacterial survival was tested over seven days. To test the transmission of bacteria from one person's hands to paper and back to another person's hands, the fingertips of volunteers were inoculated with a nonpathogenic strain of E. coli; these volunteers then pressed the inoculum onto sterile paper swatches. Another group of volunteers whose hands had been moistened pressed their fingertips onto the contaminated paper swatches. Bacteria transferred to the moistened fingertips were cultivated according to standard laboratory procedures.
The four tested organisms showed differences in length of survival depending on environmental room conditions, but were stable on paper for up to 72 hours and still cultivable after seven days. Test organisms were transferred to paper, survived on it, and were retransferred back to hands.
Reference: Hübner NO, Hübner C, Kramer A and Assadian O. Survival of Bacterial Pathogens on Paper and Bacterial Retrieval from Paper to Hands: Preliminary Results. Am J Nursing. Volume 111, No. 12. Pp 30-34. December 2011.