Wisbech students open the door to an accidental discovery in germ control

17:33 04 March 2014

Queen Elizabeth Hospital King

Queen Elizabeth Hospital King's Lynn


A Wisbech school toilet door handle has provided the key to a major accidental medical breakthrough in the fight against germs.

Students and consultants at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn joined forces to come up with the findings which are to be presented to some of the world’s keenest medical brains at an international conference in America later this year.

Wisbech Grammar School was used as a testing ground by Critical Care consultants from the QEH in a partnership that saw students collect data and write-up their findings to be presented at the International Federation of Environmental Health conference in Las Vegas in July.

The team was led by QEH Medical Director Dr Mark Blunt and Critical Care Consultant Dr Peter Young.

Dr Young said: “The school students carried out a randomised controlled trial looking at a comparison of cleaning the last point of hand contact when leaving toilet facilities – the inner door handle.

“A pre-audit showed heavy contamination with bowel bacteria. Instituting once daily cleaning was effective in standard bleach-type wipes and chlorhexidine wipes. The chlorhexidine wipes, however, had a prolonged effect which retained cleanliness over time, even with repeated use of the handle.”

He added: “The implications are that in a normal setting your hands will be contaminated with faecal organisms when exiting the toilet, even if you have washed your hands.

“Simply switching to this cleaning regimen will ensure that the bacterial load that your hands are exposed to is minimised.”

The study involved the chemical chlorhexidine, known as CHG, which is used in some disinfectants and antiseptics.

A result of the toilet door tests was to discover that CHG remained active for many hours after it was applied – and that germs did not grow despite the potentially unsanitary environment.

The simple discovery could revolutionise cleaning techniques in the public sector, where toilet door handles are recognised as being one of the ways germs causing diarrhoea and sickness are transmitted from one person to another.

The hospital consultants stumbled across the solution by chance when they were carrying out a laboratory study of the long-term tolerance of their iPads to cleaning products.


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