Hotel Hygiene: Is Your Hotel Making You Sick?

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

As a physician and pathologist, I have a pretty strong stomach. But even I was overcome with a wave of nausea when I watched a hidden camera expose of hotel hygiene practices by investigative reporters. In brief, for the report I saw, teams of journalists placed hidden cameras in hotel rooms in a range of randomly-chosen hotels in the Atlanta, Georgia area (the study, and similar observations, have also been carried out in other locations). Hotels ranged from the mid-priced business hotels to the top of the line luxury establishments (5 star). A blatant disregard for hygienic practices that could lead to serious infection was observed in numerous hotels when housekeeping staff cleaned (or didn't clean, as the case may be) the drinking glasses in the hotel room.

Housekeeping staff was caught on film either rinsing the drinking glasses (in preparation for a new guest) with water only, or washing them with industrial cleaner labeled "do not drink." In other cases, dirty bath towels - from the previous guest - were used to dry the glasses after their perfunctory rinse in tap water. Another film clip showed a woman wearing latex gloves cleaning the guest toilet and then proceeding to rinse the drinking glasses, without removing or changing the gloves.

We all know that some of the principal routes for spread of infections include contact with infected persons or contact with articles of bedding or clothing that have been contaminated by an infected source. Numerous infections are spread by respiratory secretions, like those that may contaminate a drinking glass. Other serious diseases are spread by the fecal-oral route, in which contaminated fecal matter (think about the toilet-cleaning gloves or drying the glasses with bath towels) comes in contact with something (for example, a glass) that enters the mouth.

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