By John Salak –
Sometimes what’s supposed to make you feel good can make you sick. That is the case when it comes to wristbands—and there are millions of them adoring arms worldwide.
Wristbands are used for all sorts of reasons, mementos, styling, health bands, fitness aids (think Fitbits), traditional watches and, of course, tech-center appendages such as Apple Watches.
Lots of them have practical or sentimental value. Almost all of them, however, also have something else: bacteria. Researchers from Florida Atlantic University claim about 95 percent of wristbands are loaded with potentially harmful pathogenic bacteria. The reason is pretty obvious. These bands are rubbed against the skin constantly, and the wearer rarely cleans them.
Rubber and plastic bands are the biggest culprits when harboring bacteria, while mental bands, especially silver and gold, are usually almost bacteria-free.
The university researchers discovered this infestation by testing plastic, rubber, cloth, leather and metal (gold and silver) wristbands worn by active users to determine which was bacteria-laden. They also tried to get a handle on how best to disinfect them.
“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,” reported senior author Nwadiuto Esiobu, Ph.D., a biology professor.
While there was no significant difference between the bacteria counts on wristbands worn by men or women, the study reported that the most important factor in the counts was the texture of the wristband material and the activity.
There were several types of bacteria found, but the most common were the genera Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas. Intestinal organisms of the genera Escherichia, specifically E. coli, were also common. Staphylococcus spp was prevalent on 85 percent of the wristbands, while Pseudomonas spp appeared on 30 percent. In addition, E. coli bacteria was reported on 60 percent of the wristbands.
Staphylococcus aureus can cause a wide variety of clinical diseases. It is commonly found on human skin, nose, armpit, groin or other areas. Pseudomonas spp is also common and can cause infections in the blood, lungs (pneumonia) or other body parts after surgery. Enterobacteria are a large family of bacteria that includes the more familiar pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella.
Perhaps not surprisingly, regular gym attendees showed the highest staphylococcal counts, which researchers stressed emphasized the need for these wearers to sanitize wristbands after a workout.
“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 healthcare workers and others in hospital environments to regularly sanitize these surfaces.”
Cleaning is not only effective at keeping bacteria under control, but it is easy. The research team reported that Lysol™ Disinfectant Spray and 70 percent ethanol were highly effective regardless of the wristband material. These solutions boasted a 99.99 percent kill rate within 30 seconds. Apple cider vinegar, while a traditional cleanser, was not as potent and required a two-minute exposure to reduce bacterial counts.
The study begs the question of whether wristbands should be, well, personally banned. Potential health problems exist, but regular cleaning and care will significantly reduce any risks.
Of course, other everyday items could also deserve a regular scrub.
“Other potential forms of bacterial transmission and facilitation of infection, such as earbuds or cell phones, should be similarly studied,” Esiobu added.