95% of wristbands found to be a breeding ground for bacteria

A new study has found that almost all wristbands harbor bacteria that have the potential to make us sick, but some wristband materials are prone to higher bacterial counts than others. It’s a timely reminder of the importance of regularly disinfecting these commonly used items.

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us a thing or two about hand washing and sanitizing. But how many of us clean or disinfect our watch wristband or the wristband attached to our fitness tracker? A new study by researchers at Florida Atlantic University has found that we really need to.

The researchers tested 20 wristbands made from either plastic, rubber, cloth, leather, gold or silver to see if there was a relationship between wristband material and the prevalence of bacteria. Wristband swabs were taken from random volunteers, including drivers, firefighters, office workers and vets.

They found that almost all wristbands – 95% – were contaminated, but that cloth wristbands yielded the highest bacterial load, followed by plastic, rubber, leather and metal (gold and silver). The lowest total bacterial counts were from a gold wristband. There was no significant difference in the occurrence of bacteria between males and females.

“Plastic and rubber wristbands may provide a more appropriate environment for bacterial growth as porous and static surfaces tend to attract and be colonized by bacteria,” said Nwadiuto Esiobu, a study co-author.

The researchers found bacteria of the Staphylococcus genera on 85% of wristbands and bacteria of the Pseudomonas genera on 30% – both are common skin bacteria. The gym-goer showed the highest staphylococcal counts, emphasizing the need to sanitize wristbands post-workout. The gut bacteria E. coli, which most commonly causes infection through fecal-oral transmission, was found on 60% of wristbands.

“The quantity and taxonomy of bacteria we found on the wristbands show that there is a need for regular sanitation of these surfaces,” Esiobu said. “Even at relatively low numbers, these pathogens are of public health significance. Importantly, the ability of many of these bacteria to significantly affect the health of immunocompromised hosts indicates a special need for health care workers and others in hospital environments to regularly sanitize these surfaces.”

Speaking of sanitizing, the researchers also looked at what was most effective at killing these bacteria. They compared Lysol Disinfectant Spray, 70% ethanol such as that used in hospital-grade sanitizers and alcohol swabs, and the more natural apple cider vinegar. Lysol and ethanol were found to be highly effective, with a 99.99% kill rate within 30 seconds. Apple cider vinegar was less potent, requiring a two-minute exposure to reduce bacterial counts.

The researchers suggest that, in light of their findings, other common devices, such as earbuds and smartphones, should be similarly studied.

The study was published in the journal Advances in Infectious Diseases.

Source: Florida Atlantic University

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