Hands-free, automatic faucets that did away with touching and handling the fittings are more infectious than the old-fashioned, manual kind, according to a study at Johns Hopkins University.
The study to be presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Health Care Epidemiology, was led by Dr. Emily Snydor and her team. They tested the automatic and the manual faucets in the patient care areas of The Johns Hopkins Hospital over seven weeks. In 50 per cent of cultured water samples from the electronic faucets, they found Legionella that causes Legionnaires' disease, a severe and sometimes deadly form of pneumonia . On the other hand, only 15 per cent of the cultured water samples from manual faucets showed evidence of these bacteria.
Attempts to clean the faucet components with chlorine dioxide were only partially successful and even after cleaning the faucet parts with disinfectant, 29 per cent of the automatic ones still showed existence of the bacteria compared to 7 per cent of the manual faucets.
It is interesting that the parts of the electronic faucets that show the growth of Legionella are not there in manual faucets. The complicated system of valves is difficult to clean in electronic faucets. Moreover, the very reason why electronic faucets were chosen - to conserve water - could cause the bacterial growth with the decreased water flow.
Subsequent to this study the 20 electronic faucets at Johns Hopkins Hospital have been removed from the patient care areas and replaced with the manual kind. More would be replaced throughout the hospital, and 1,080 manual faucets will be installed in the new clinical buildings being built.
As Johns Hopkins infectious disease expert Dr. Lisa Maragakis says, "Newer is not necessarily better when it comes to infection control in hospitals."