With healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in the U.S. accounting for an estimated 1.7 million infections and 99,000 deaths annually, reducing and preventing these infections is a top goal for healthcare facilities throughout the country. To address this issue, a variety of infection control measures must be taken, ranging from engineering controls built into the design of a healthcare facility and protocols for hand hygiene and staff immunization to personal protective equipment.
Understanding the routes of transmission for HAIs is also a critical first step in preventing them.
In healthcare environments microorganisms are primarily transmitted in three ways:
- Contact transmission , which can be direct (involving body-surface-to-body-surface contact) or indirect (involving contact between a susceptible person with a contaminated inanimate object). Often, indirect contact is initiated when contaminated hands touch an object or environmental surface, which in turn becomes a source of contamination.
- Droplet transmission , when someone coughs, sneezes or talks and then transmits an infection to someone else via the conjunctivae or mucous membranes of the nose or mouth. While droplet contamination is generally considered to be a form of contact transmission, it can also contaminate the surrounding environment and lead to indirect contact transmission.
- Airborne transmission , which occurs when respiratory airborne droplet nuclei are disseminated, usually by coughing, and then inhaled by a susceptible host.
One area where microorganisms can flourish is the restroom. Lavatory surfaces such as faucets, toilet handles, sinks or dispensers for bathroom tissue, paper towels or soap that are touched frequently may serve as reservoirs of microbial contamination. When hands come into contact with these surfaces, microbial agents can then be transferred to the nose, mouth, eyes or environmental surfaces via indirect contact transmission.
Touchless dispensing solutions are one way to help reduce the spread of germs in a restroom. The electronic revolution that has taken place in the washroom in recent years has greatly enhanced restroom hygiene by eliminating the need to touch dispensers, faucets and toilet handles during use. These systems can help make the task of using as well as maintaining the restroom easier, more efficient and more cost-effective, while providing improved hygiene and sanitation features.
By eliminating one potential source of germs, touchless dispensers can help reduce their spread. With these systems, restrooms visitors are not required to touch handles, levers or buttons to flush toilets, turn on water, or dispense washroom tissue and towel products. Some public restrooms continue the no-touch theme by using doorless entryways so that freshly washed hands dont have to grab a dirty door handle on the way out of the restroom.
Touchless systems can operate in different ways. Some are decidedly high-tech, with sensor-activated devices that dispense bath tissue or paper products, turn on faucets and even turn lights on and off. Touchless systems are especially crucial for hand towel dispensers, since hand towels are typically used once hands are clean, after having been washed and rinsed. The newest touchless towel dispenser are quieter and more versatile than ever providing adjustable settings for sheet length, time delay and sensitivity.
Not all touchless systems are electronic, however. There are also mechanical no-touch towel dispensers, with no levers to pull, that provide the same hygienic benefits as sensor-activated dispensers. Users can easily reach the sheets they need, without fishing around inside a potentially dirty dispenser. Other non-electronic hygienic options include folded towel dispensing systems that dispense towels one at a time so users only have to touch the towels that they need.
While touchless flushing mechanisms are relatively commonplace, there are some that go a step further by flushing automatically when not in use to keep fresh water in the bowl at all times. The addition of automatic dispensing of disinfectant with each flush can help minimize bacteria formation in the bowl and reduce odors. Also, beyond the sanitary aspect of not touching fixtures, keeping hands off them makes it easier to clean the flush valves and handles.
Maintaining adequate supplies of personal care products in the restroom is another important aspect of creating and maintaining a sanitary restroom environment. Proper restroom hygiene cannot be maintained without bath tissue or hand soap, for instance. One way to ensure an adequate supply of product in the restroom, as well as to ease maintenance headaches and reduce costs and waste, is to select high capacity systems. High capacity systems can help reduce product run-out by lasting longer and offering less frequent product change-outs. Many touchless systems are also high capacity. These include extra-long roll towel systems and bath tissue systems with jumbo-sized coreless bath tissue (which eliminates the hole and cardboard core in the center of the roll). Not only do these systems last longer, they also provide environmental benefits by significantly reducing packaging waste as compared to standard-sized towels or standard cored bath tissue systems.
Another benefit of touchless systems is controlled dispensing. Because these systems are programmed to dispense a specific amount of product at a time, they can result in a reduction in the amount of product used. Some systems can reduce bath tissue usage by as much as 20 percent. An added plus can be compliance with the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), since these systems, when properly installed, provide easy one-handed dispensing.
As restroom products manufacturers have moved to touchless dispensing of products, so have manufacturers of cleaning systems. Touchless cleaning products are designed to allow housekeeping professionals to clean without touching restroom surfaces with their hands. These cleaning systems are easy to operate and provide better ergonomics versus bending over a bucket. They also release fewer odors as the system is contained and they provide a deeper cleaning ability due to pressure. Touchless systems may also help ensure that the cleaning chemical or fluid in the bucket is not dirtier than the surface being cleaned, which can sometimes be the case with bucket water.
Restrooms are a potential source of contamination, due to fecal and other forms of contamination, especially when unwashed hands come into contact with inanimate objects such as toilet and sink handles and towel and bath tissue dispensers. Touchless restroom systems can help minimize the spread of infection by eliminating the need to touch potentially contaminated environmental surfaces.
Sean K. Nichols is a category manager for Kimberly-Clark Professional, based in Roswell, Ga.