Going On Vacation? Look Out For These Bacteria Hotspots

By Amir Khan on June 18, 2012 9:55 AM EDT

Hotel
The Plaza Hotel in New York City (Photo: Creative Commons)

If you're going on vacation, you need to look out for a few bacteria hotspots, according to new research, presented at the American Society for Microbiology meeting in San Francisco on Sunday. Researchers found that bacteria are abound in hotel rooms, and TV remotes and light switches are the worst offenders.

"Hoteliers have an obligation to provide their guests with a safe and secure environment," Katie Kirsch, lead researcher and undergraduate student at the University of Houston, said, according to HealthDay. "Currently, housekeeping practices vary across brands and properties with little or no standardization industry wide. The current validation method for hotel room cleanliness is a visual assessment, which has been shown to be ineffective in measuring levels of sanitation."

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Researchers collected samples from 19 surfaces in three hotels Texas, Indiana and South Carolina and found high levels of bacterial colonies on TV remotes and light switches. Bacteria levels were between two and 10 times higher than levels accepted in hospitals, researchers said.

High bacteria levels were also found on sponges, mops and other items on housekeeper's carts, which the researchers say is worrisome, because it could lead to cross contamination between rooms.  While they could not say for sure that all of the bacteria could cause illness, high contamination levels are an indicator of uncleanliness, the researchers said.

"When you're in a hotel room, there's that stranger factor," Jay Neal, an assistant professor in the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant management, told MSNBC. "It's not a scare thing."

The lowest contamination was on the headboard, curtain rod and bathroom door handles.

Researchers said that by better understanding where the bacteria live, hotel housekeepers could more efficiently clean rooms.

"Currently, housekeepers clean 14 to 16 rooms per eight-hour shift, spending approximately 30 minutes on each room," Kirsch said. "Identifying high-risk items within a hotel room would allow housekeeping managers to strategically design cleaning practices and allocate time to efficiently reduce the potential health risks posed by microbial contamination in hotel rooms."

Kirsch stressed that the sample size for the study was very small, but said she hope it's the beginning of science-based hotel cleaning.

"The information derived from this study could aid hotels in adopting a proactive approach for reducing potential hazards from contact with surfaces within hotel rooms and provide a basis for the development of more effective and efficient housekeeping practices," she said in a statement.

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