The distinct smell of cleaning products. The obscure devices seen protruding out of white coat pockets. It’s clear to see why visits to the hospital aren’t on everyone’s list of weekend activities. Now a new study has revealed yet another unsettling aspect of the hospital experience, and this one may come as a bit of a surprise. Apparently, the elevator button is an absolute hotspot for germs.

More Germs Than A Toilet Flusher

In the study, now available in the online journal, Open Medicine, 120 elevator buttons and 96 toilet surfaces were swabbed in three Toronto hospitals, Vox reported. Shockingly, the elevator buttons proved to be dirtier than the handles of bathroom stalls, privacy latches, or even the toilet flushers. According to the report, “the prevalence of colonization of elevator buttons was 61 percent,” with “no significant patterns found in location of the buttons, day of the week, or panel position within the elevator.” In other words, it doesn’t matter where or when you touch the elevator button, they are probably going to be filthy. The study’s authors added that "patients remain at potential risk of cross-contamination because of the frequent use of these buttons by diverse individuals."

Study’s Limitations

In the overview, the authors note that their study “had several limitations that merit emphasis.” For example, the samples were taken during the winter and right in the middle of flu season, meaning that people were probably more likely to both use gloves and apply ample amounts of hand sanitizer. Also, it being flu season, there may have been a larger influx of patients and visitors to the hospital than usual. Based on these circumstances, it may be fair to assume that during another time of year the amount of germs found on these surfaces may have been different.

Bit Of Good News

Although the researchers found a shockingly large amount of bacteria, the type of bacteria they uncovered was described as having “low pathogenicity,” which in a roundabout way translates as having a low risk of causing illness. Out of the 120 elevators involved in the study, 67 were found to have staphylococcus, more specifically, coagulase-negative staphylococci. This bacteria is a normal part of human skin’s environment and has a very low risk of causing severe or harmful effects.

Streptococcus was the second most popular bacteria, found on 11 of the 120 elevators examined. This bacteria is known to cause minor illness such as strep throat of skin infections, but can also be the cause of more extreme conditions in newborns such as blood infections or meningitis. For a full list of the bacteria found on the elevator and toilet surfaces, click here.

Best Methods Of Protection

Not all bacteria is necessarily bad for you. Some, such as the coagulase-negative staphylococci, usually have a peaceful existence on your flesh without you ever being aware of it. Washing one's hands is still regarded as the most efficient method of protection against bacteria. It is advised that you wash your hands before preparing food or eating, after coughing or sneezing, and after using the bathroom or changing a diaper. Hand sanitizers are an effective alternative in situations where water is not available.

Source: Kandel CE, Simor AE, Redelmeier DA. Elevator buttons as unrecognized sources of bacterial colonization in hospitals. Open Medicine. 2014.