(BlackDoctor.org) — Grabbing a paper towel in a public restroom may leave more on your hands than you bargained for.
Researchers say they’ve found bacteria, including some that are known to make people sick, in unused paper towels. They also found that those bacteria could be transferred to hands after washing.
The study is published in the American Journal of Infection Control. It did not find any illnesses connected to paper towel use.
Experts say the findings are probably most important for people in hospital isolation units and those with weakened immune function who need to be extra cautious about contact with germs.
Germs Lurk in Paper Towels
Researchers at Laval University in Canada tested six brands of commercial paper towels — the kind doled out in many public bathrooms.
They found bacteria in all of them, but the towels made from recycled fibers were the most heavily contaminated.
“In our study, the concentration of bacteria in the recycled paper was between 100- to 1,000-fold higher than the virgin wood pulp brand,” the researchers write.
Bacterial slime is known to be a problem at recycled paper mills, where it corrodes machines and may damage finished paper sheets.
Researchers say the new paper towel finding fits with other studies that have noted high bacterial counts in other kinds of recycled paper products.
Bacteria may thrive in recycled paper because it contains binding ingredients like starches and fillers that serve as food.
Most of the bacteria found in paper towels were Bacillus bacteria. Many Bacillus strains can produce toxins that cause food poisoning.
One brand of paper towel contained Bacillus cereus bacteria. In addition to food poisoning, B. cereus has been associated with infections of the eyes, lungs, blood, and central nervous system.