Nanotube fabric with the power to ward off pathogens

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have been crafting a high-tech fabric for the military made out of tiny carbon nanotubes — hollow structures that stay breathable in hot weather yet are small enough to block out pathogens. For an extra layer of safety, they’re planning to add a special coating that will block out even the smallest toxins, such as anthrax spores and other chemical and biological warfare agents.

The technology is still in the concept stages, but the research has already received funding from the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency

Francesco Fornasiero, a chemical engineer at the Bay Area lab, told the Los Angeles Times, “We developed membranes which have pores that are made only of carbon nanotubes. These pores have walls that are extremely small. The smoothness of this wall and the hydrophobicity [ability to repel water] are together responsible for the extremely rapid transport rates observed for both gases and liquids.”

Best Western goes high-tech to clean

When I think Best Western, I think free wi-fi.

Maybe I should be thinking, cleaner rooms.

There’s a certain snobbery about hotel rooms similar to restaurants: dives are dirty, fancy ones are clean.

Decades of restaurant inspection data show bacteria and other bugs don’t discriminate; they’re equal-opportunity contaminants. Data from hotels is starting to show the same (don’t let the bed bugs bite).

The best thing about Best Western is they’re marketing cleanliness. Just like food providers should be doing.

USA Today reports Best Western Hotels, in response to what it says is travelers’ insistence on cleanliness, is equipping its housekeeping crews with black lights to detect biological matter otherwise unseen by the human eye, and ultraviolet light wands to zap it.

For possibly the dirtiest object in your room — the TV remote control — there will be disposable wraps.

Best Western says it’s taking the steps partly because research from Booz & Company shows that travelers desire a hotel’s cleanliness over customer service, style and design.

But it’s also reacting to the times, in which hotels and supermarkets place hand sanitizer in visible places for germ-obsessed customers (Australia, you paying attention yet?).

People also have become more skeptical about cleanliness because of headlines about E. coli, norovirus and bird flu, says Ron Pohl, a Best Western vice president.

Fish nail jobs – pedicures — could spread bad bacteria

In 2008, a new craze swept the nail industry as women (and men) put their feet into water containing fish that ate the dead skin off feet.

Washington State, and others, said no way, and would not approve the process.

Now there’s some data to back up the ban.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control published a report by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science in the United Kingdom, which studied the kinds of bacteria carried by the Garra rufa, or "doctor fish," an 2.5-cm-long silver carp native to Southeast Asia.

"To date there has been only limited information on the types of bacteria associated with these fish," lead researcher David Verner-Jeffreys said. "Our study identified some of the species of bacteria associated with this fish species, including some that can cause infections in both fish and humans."

It’s no secret that water provides a fertile breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria. Mix the bacteria living on fish scales or in their waste with even the tiniest cut from an overzealous doctor fish, and the risk of infection is very real.

Doctor fish generally are imported to salons from Indonesia or Malaysia, which can make it difficult to control the quality of the fish breeding and environment.
After an outbreak of strep bacteria last year in a shipment of the fish, the British government seized five containers from London’s Heathrow Air-port and found they carried some species of bacteria that can cause disease in humans and fish.

These bacteria included: Aeromonas, which causes wound infections and gastrointestinal problems in humans; Streptococcus agalactiae, which causes skin and soft tissue infections; and Mycobacteria, which the study reported have been responsible for skin infections in some pedicure clients in the U.K.

"To date, there are only a limited number of reports of patients who might have been infected by this expo-sure route," the report says. "However, our study raises some concerns over the extent that these fish, or their transport water, might harbor … pathogens of clinical relevance."

"It should be emphasized that neither us nor the [British] Health Protection Agency are advising that the practice should be banned," Verner-Jeffreys said.

Beware the double-dipper on Super Bowl Sunday? Or is it just like kissing

In a 1993 episode of the television series, Seinfeld, George Costanza was confronted at a funeral reception by Timmy, his girlfriend’s brother, after dipping the same chip into the dip after taking a bite.

“Did, did you just double dip that chip?” Timmy asks incredulously, later objecting, “That’s like putting your whole mouth right in the dip!” Finally George retorts, “You dip the way you want to dip, I’ll dip the way I want to dip,” and aims another used chip at the bowl. Timmy tries to take it away, and the scene ends as they wrestle for it.

In 2008, food microbiologist Paul L. Dawson at Clemson University oversaw an experiment in which undergraduates found on average, that three-to-six double dips transferred about 10,000 bacteria from the eater’s mouth to the remaining dip.

Each cracker picked up between one and two grams of dip. That means that sporadic double dipping in a cup of dip would transfer at least 50 to 100 bacteria from one mouth to another with every bite.

In anticipation of much dipping during Sunday’s Super Bowl, the Is It True video series af the Wall Street Journal’s Health Blog presents this animation, and concludes it’s not like putting your whole mouth in the dip but could be compared to sharing a kiss with your fellow dippers.

Washing with contaminated soap increases bacteria on hands

People who wash their hands with contaminated soap from bulk-soap-refillable dispensers can increase the number of disease-causing microbes on their hands and may play a role in transmission of bacteria in public settings according to research published in the May issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

"Hand washing with soap and water is a universally accepted practice for reducing the transmission of potentially pathogenic microorganisms. However, liquid soap can become contaminated with bacteria and poses a recognized health risk in health care settings," says Carrie Zapka from GOJO Industries in Akron Ohio, the lead researcher on the study that also included scientists from BioScience Laboratories in Bozeman, Montana and the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Bulk-soap-refillable dispensers, in which new soap is poured into a dispenser, are the predominant soap dispenser type in community settings, such as public restrooms. In contrast to sealed-soap dispensers, which are refilled by inserting a new bag or cartridge of soap, they are prone to bacterial contamination and several outbreaks linked to the use of contaminated soap have already been reported in healthcare settings.

In this study Zapka and her colleagues investigated the health risk associated with the use of bulk-soap-refillable dispensers in a community setting. They found an elementary school where all 14 of the soap dispensers were already contaminated and asked students and staff to wash their hands, measuring bacteria levels before and after handwashing. They found that Gram-negative bacteria on the hands of students and staff increased 26-fold after washing with the contaminated soap.

Zapka notes that all the participants’ hands were decontaminated after testing by washing with uncontaminated soap followed by hand sanitizer. At the conclusion of the study, all the contaminated soap dispensers were replaced with dispensers using sealed-soap refills. After one year of use, not one of them was found to be contaminated.

A copy of the research article can be found online at http://aem.asm.org/cgi/content/full/77/9/2898.

Washing with contaminated soap increases bacteria on hands

People who wash their hands with contaminated soap from bulk-soap-refillable dispensers can increase the number of disease-causing microbes on their hands and may play a role in transmission of bacteria in public settings according to research published in the May issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

"Hand washing with soap and water is a universally accepted practice for reducing the transmission of potentially pathogenic microorganisms. However, liquid soap can become contaminated with bacteria and poses a recognized health risk in health care settings," says Carrie Zapka from GOJO Industries in Akron Ohio, the lead researcher on the study that also included scientists from BioScience Laboratories in Bozeman, Montana and the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Bulk-soap-refillable dispensers, in which new soap is poured into a dispenser, are the predominant soap dispenser type in community settings, such as public restrooms. In contrast to sealed-soap dispensers, which are refilled by inserting a new bag or cartridge of soap, they are prone to bacterial contamination and several outbreaks linked to the use of contaminated soap have already been reported in healthcare settings.

In this study Zapka and her colleagues investigated the health risk associated with the use of bulk-soap-refillable dispensers in a community setting. They found an elementary school where all 14 of the soap dispensers were already contaminated and asked students and staff to wash their hands, measuring bacteria levels before and after handwashing. They found that Gram-negative bacteria on the hands of students and staff increased 26-fold after washing with the contaminated soap.

Zapka notes that all the participants’ hands were decontaminated after testing by washing with uncontaminated soap followed by hand sanitizer. At the conclusion of the study, all the contaminated soap dispensers were replaced with dispensers using sealed-soap refills. After one year of use, not one of them was found to be contaminated.

A copy of the research article can be found online at http://aem.asm.org/cgi/content/full/77/9/2898.

High bacteria levels in bean sprouts

CBC News asked hockey goon and University of British Columbia microbiology type Kevin Allen to test 44 packages of sprouts for bacteria from across the country and he found lots.

There was no salmonella but Allen found 93 per cent tested positive for bacteria, and in some cases, high levels of enterococci bacteria, which is an indicator of fecal contamination.

"They [bacteria found] come from our intestinal tract and we don’t want the contents of our intestinal tract on our food," he said.

Sprouts are particularly susceptible to contaminants because they are grown in moist, warm environments, which are ideal for the rapid growth of bacteria, Allen said, adding that washing them before consuming them likely wouldn’t help.

"Personally, I don’t consume sprouts and I would not feed them to my children, either," Allen said.

Allen also tested 106 samples of bagged veggies and found 79 per cent of the herbs and 50 per cent of the spinach had similar bacterial contamination.

Allens report can be found at http://www.cbc.ca/manitoba/includes/pdfs/produce_survey.pdf. We all look forward to the results being published in a peer-reviewed journal before being further bandied about.

A table of North American raw sprout-related outbreaks is available at http://bites.ksu.edu/sprout-associated-outbreaks-north-america
 

Gotcha: bacteria found on stuff

BART is not an overly enthusiastic Simpson’s fan; it stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit, rode it a couple of years ago, didn’t notice any bugs up, or out, my butt.

The New York Times reports that riders on the BART system (that’s in and around San Francisco) have long complained about germs in the hard-to-clean cloth seats. As Bob Franklin, the BART board president, acknowledged, “People don’t know what’s in there.”

The Bay Citizen commissioned Darleen Franklin, a supervisor at San Francisco State University’s biology lab, to analyze the bacterial content of a random BART seat.

Fecal and skin-borne bacteria resistant to antibiotics were found in a seat on a train headed from Daly City to Dublin/Pleasanton. Further testing on the skin-borne bacteria showed characteristics of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, the drug-resistant bacterium that causes potentially lethal infections, although Ms. Franklin cautioned that the MRSA findings were preliminary.

High concentrations of at least nine bacteria strains and several types of mold were found on the seat. Even after Ms. Franklin cleaned the cushion with an alcohol wipe, potentially harmful bacteria were found growing in the fabric.

Dr. John Swartzberg, a clinical professor at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, played down the threat of infection from harmful bacteria on a BART seat. “I suspect it’s not a very big problem. That said, if there’s another way to do it, where you can clean it better, then you should do it.”

The rest of the story is about hygiene concerns as BART officials determine what kind of seats to install for a new fleet of cars in 2017.

It’s another in a long line of Gotcha-type stories that find bacteria on things – doorknobs, money, keyboards, sex toys.

Does it mean anything? And where are the sick people?

These kinds of Gotcha stories have been going on a long time.

In 1995, the front page of Toronto’s Globe and Mail proclaimed, "you probably handle an unimaginably dangerous collection of harmful bacteria" while going about your kitchenly chores, and that "90 per cent of food-related illness in the home could be prevented by using paper towels when preparing foods, especially meats."

The killer-dishrag story did meet the primary goal of its creators: to sell more sponges. Specifically, anti-bacterial sponges manufactured by 3M Co. of Minneapolis, Minn.

Dr. Charles P. Gerba, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, was contracted by 3M to perform tests of household dishrags and sponges in five U.S. cities and compare the results to the 3M sponge. Not surprisingly, Dr. Gerba found about 100 times more bacteria in dishrags retrieved from households.

Then the public relations firm hired by 3M peddled the results, taking Dr. Gerba on a five-city tour to release the results. That was in Aug. 1995. Several stories appeared on the U.S. wire services. Why the Globe decided to run the story at the end of Dec. 1995 remains a mystery.

Gerba showed up again with a bugs-in-reusable grocery bags report last year, that has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. And last week, Gerba was in the news again, saying his group had swabbed the handles of 85 grocery carts in four states for bacterial contamination and that 72 per cent of the carts had a positive marker for fecal bacteria.

Scientists say this study helps explain why earlier investigations found kids who touch the handles, are more likely than others, to get infected with bacteria like salmonella. Researchers reported in the Journal of Food Protection in June 2010 that kids can be exposed to raw meat and poultry products while riding in shopping carts.

But that was a study published in a peer-reviewed journal. The bugs-on-shopping-cart handles is a news story with legs – it keeps showing up – but the experimental design and conclusions have not been subject to peer-review, and the conclusions may be erroneous. Who knows?

On the shopping cart results, Dr. Neil Fishman, an infectious disease expert and director of health care epidemiology and infection prevention at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, is concerned that risk isn’t very big.

“I’d be worried if there was any evidence of any disease outbreaks related to shopping cart use. There isn’t — and we’ve been using them for a long time.”

While there may, indeed, be bacteria on shopping cart handles, they can also be found on doorknobs, countertops and a host of other items we touch every day, Fishman said. “My guess is that there are more bacteria on a car seat than on a shopping cart,” he added.

Josh Rosenau , writing for Science Blogs last night, picked up on the same theme, citing microbiologist Pat Fidopiastis as saying “none of this means much unless you can show me a significant risk involved with coming in contact with a shopping cart. You might be able to say that "X percent" more kids get sick if they touch a shopping cart handle versus a bathroom door knob, for example. But what are the actual numbers? Is this like saying, "More people get struck by lightning if they walk around outside in a storm than those who stay in their homes?”

Gotcha.

Dry hands or spread bacteria; paper towel better than blowers

Another meaningless survey relying on self-reporting has found 50 per cent of 1,053 U.S. respondents said they "wash their hands more thoroughly or longer or more frequently" in public restrooms as a result of the H1N1 virus – that’s up from 45 percent in 2009 when the same question was asked.

But even if people think they are vigilant about washing their hands – observational studies say they aren’t – are people washing and drying hands in a way to lower bacterial loads? Not drying hands thoroughly after washing them could increase the spread of bacteria, and rubbing hands whilst using a conventional electric hand dryer could be a contributing factor. Frequently people give up drying their hands and wipe them on their clothes instead.

That’s what I observed anecdotally when I first visited Kansas State University in 2005 and saw these groovy all-in-one hand units that are terrible for hand sanitation; paper towels were subsequently installed so people could at least dry their hands properly.

A study by researchers at the University of Bradford and published in the current Journal of Applied Microbiology evaluated three kinds of hand drying and their effect on transfer of bacteria from the hands to other surfaces: paper towels, traditional hand dryers, which rely on evaporation, and a new model of hand dryer, which rapidly strips water off the hands using high velocity air jets.??

In this study the researchers quantified the effects of hand drying by measuring the number of bacteria on different parts of the hands before and after different drying methods. Volunteers were asked to wash their hands and place them onto contact plates that were then incubated to measure bacterial growth. The volunteers were then asked to dry their hands using either hand towels or one of three hand dryers, with or without rubbing their hands together, and levels of bacteria were re-measured.

??Dr Snelling and her team found that rubbing the hands together whilst using traditional hand dryers could counteract the reduction in bacterial numbers following handwashing. Furthermore, they found that the relative reduction in the number of bacteria was the same, regardless of the hand dryer used, when hands were kept still. When hands are rubbed together during drying, bacteria that live within the skin can be brought to the surface and transferred to other surfaces, along with surface bacteria that were not removed by handwashing.

The researchers found the most effective way of keeping bacterial counts low, when drying hands, was using paper towels. Amongst the electric dryers, the model that rapidly stripped the moisture off the hands was best for reducing transfer of bacteria to other surfaces.