Transfer of dry surface biofilm in the healthcare environment: the role of healthcare workers' hands as vehicles

D. Chowdhury, S. Tahir, M. Legge, H. Hu, T. Prvan, K. Johani, G. S. Whiteley, T. O. Glasbey, A. K. Deva, K. Vickery*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    39 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Dry surface biofilms (DSBs) persist for extended periods in hospital, and may play a significant role in transmission of healthcare-associated infections. Aim: To determine whether DSBs may be transferred from hospital surfaces to healthcare workers' hands. Method: Twelve-day Staphylococcus aureus DSB was grown on polycarbonate and glass coupons in a CDC Biofilm Reactor®. A total of 1.8 × 106 and 8.8 × 105 bacteria grew on the polycarbonate and glass coupons respectively. Transmission was tested by lifting the coupon with forefinger and thumb of ungloved hands to a height of 30 cm, then touching horse blood agar (HBA) plates 19 sequential times. Transferred bacterial number was determined by colony-forming units. The effect of DSB wetting on biofilm transfer was tested with 5% neutral detergent treatment for 5 s. Findings: Between 5.5 and 6.6% of the DSB bacteria were transferred to hands with one touch and ∼20% were then transferred to HBA with one touch, giving an overall transfer rate of 1.26% and 1.04% for polycarbonate and glass coupons, respectively. Detergent treatment had little effect on bacterial removal from coupons, but, for biofilm grown on polycarbonate, significantly increased transferral to HBA (P < 0.001) to 5.2%. Large numbers of bacteria were transferred by bare hands to multiple fomites. One-third of polycarbonate coupons transferred >1000 colonies during the first five sequential touches. Sufficient bacteria to cause infection were transmitted up to 19 times following one touch of the DSB. Conclusion: DSB bacteria are transferred by hands from one fomite to multiple fomites, suggesting that DSB may serve as a persistent environmental source of pathogens.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)e85-e90
    Number of pages6
    JournalJournal of Hospital Infection
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


    • Cleaning
    • Dry surface biofilms
    • Healthcare-associated infections
    • Staphylococcus aureus
    • Transmission


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