The things we cannot see

There are many different types of infectious bacteria that thrive on our college campus and its in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect.

By on February 25, 2015

College campuses are a great place for making friends, learning new things, and having fun. Many people can see the benefits of living in such an enjoyable and beautiful environment like Quinnipiac. Yet under the microscope, colleges campuses are a great place for harmful bacteria to colonize and thrive. A bustling environment of young adults with different hygienic habits can scatter dangerous, unwanted, and unseen microorganisms all over campus. This article is only a short list of the different types of infectious bacteria and their favorite places to dorm on campus.

» KEYBOARDS «

The American Journal of Infection Control assessed the contamination of keyboards within a university setting. The results show an average of 20.1 colonies of microorganisms per square centimeter (about the size of one button on a keyboard) on computers with multiple-users, such as those in the library. Pathogens, which are disease-causing agents, were among the microbes  found on these computers.

For example, 47 percent of multiple-user keyboards contained staphylococcus aureus, a pathogen that can cause mild skin infections when in contact with open wounds. Other pathogens found on multiple-user keyboards include e. coli, a bacteria indicative of fecal contamination, which can cause diarrhea, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

These microbes can be transmitted from keyboards to students giving a potential for infection. Students should understand this danger and clean their hands before and/or after use of library computers. The library hands out free sanitizer at the front desk and students could take advantage of this to reduce their risk of contamination.

» BATHROOM «

The bathroom is another location where microorganisms can colonize and survive for long periods of time. A study on the biogeography of public restrooms researched where specific microorganisms flourish in public restrooms. It was found that the typical breeding grounds for microbes in the bathroom involve the toilet, the floor and surfaces typically touched by hands.

Firmicutes and bacteroidetes, which are different bacterias commonly found in the human gut, were found on the seat and handle of toilets. This may be caused by contact with contaminated hands or by splashing that occurs after flushing the toilet. While these bacteria are actually helpful within our gut, they can cause problems if they come in contact with other parts of our body, according to a study published by the Public Library of Science.

To avoid contamination these areas should be disinfected often. Since flushing the toilet exposes these potential infectious agents to the air toothbrushes and other exposed hygienic devices should be covered to avoid potential contamination.

Even after washing their hands students can be exposed to bacteria. A study posted on the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s website found that electric air dryers found in bathrooms disperse bacteria about 3 feet around the machine.

On the other hand, paper towels demonstrated no dispersal of bacteria. When given a choice between paper towels and warm air dryers, students should use paper towels every time. Even if there aren’t any papertowel dispensers available, students are better off letting their hands dry on their own. They can also dry them on their pants if they really dislike wet hands.

» FITNESS CENTER «

A study published in 2014 to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health researched the diversity of bacteria on the surfaces of fitness centers within a Metropolitan area.

Although Quinnipiac is not even somewhat considered a metropolitan area, as described in the study, the gyms on all three of our campuses still gain a lot of traffic from students, faculty and alumni. Results from the study could possibly be applied to many gyms that attract wider populations like here at Quinnipiac.

The experimenters extracted DNA from swabs of various surfaces commonly found at the gym. Once again, firmicutes, were some of the most abundant microbes found and were notably inhabiting treadmills, ellipticals and leg presses. A total of 63 species of bacteria were found across all surfaces that were swabbed.

In addition, a low abundance of potentially pathogenic bacteria were found. Bacillus, an infectious agent responsible for food poisoning, was found on 7.1 percent of stationary bikes and salmonella was found on 17 percent of handrails within the gym. Salmonella is an infectious agent that causes salmonellosis, a disease causing fever, diarrhea, and cramps that last 4 to 7 days, according to the CDC.

To prevent contamination, gym-goers can disinfect and wipe down their machines before and after their workout. Students who do not utilize the disinfecting spray during their time at the gym are increasing the chances of these pathogens infecting other students.

» REFRIGERATORS «

Mini-fridges are popular on most college campuses, including Quinnipiac, but many students may not know the health concerns around them. While the refrigerator is used to preserve food by keeping bacteria at bay, there are still precautions that students should take to ensure they remain healthy. First, be on the lookout for expired food. Within the high-paced environment of a college campus, it can be easy to forget to check expiration dates or simply forget about food that is buried deep within the fridge. These foods may still go bad, even inside the refrigerator and release bacteria that can colonize on other foods.

Another important tip would be to get a thermometer to place in the fridge. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) states that the temperature of a refrigerator should be at or below 40 degrees fahrenheit. This temperature ensures that bacteria cannot thrive within the fridge. It is possible that students keep their refrigerators at a temperature that allows bacteria to grow. Rotting food can cause food poisoning and other unpleasant side effects.

Avoiding the things we cannot see is essential if the Quinnipiac community wants to remain happy and healthy for the remainder of the semester.

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