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Open Access Short Report

Survival of pneumococcus on hands and fomites

Heidi Smith-Vaughan12*, Faith Crichton12, Jemima Beissbarth12, Peter S Morris123 and Amanda J Leach12

Author Affiliations

1 Child Health Division, Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, Australia

2 Institute of Advanced Studies, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Australia

3 NT Clinical School, Flinders University, Darwin, Australia

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BMC Research Notes 2008, 1:112  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-1-112

Published: 13 November 2008



Pneumococcal hand contamination in Indigenous children in remote communities is common (37%). It is not clear whether this requires frequent inoculation, or if pneumococci will survive on hands for long periods of time. Thus the aim of this study was to determine the survival time of pneumococci on hands and fomites.


The hands of 3 adult volunteers, a glass plate and plastic ball were inoculated with pneumococci suspended in two different media. Survival at specified time intervals was determined by swabbing and re-culture onto horse blood agar. Pneumococci inoculated onto hands of volunteers were recovered after 3 minutes at 4% to 79% of the initial inoculum. Recovery from one individual was consistently higher. By one hour, only a small number of pneumococci were recovered and this was dependent on the suspension medium used. At subsequent intervals and up to 3 hours after inoculation, < 10 colony forming units were recovered from hands. On a glass plate, pneumococcal numbers dropped an average 70% in the two hours after inoculation. Subsequently, < 100 colony forming units were recovered up to 15 hours after inoculation.


The poor survival of pneumococci on hands suggests that the high prevalence of pneumococcal hand contamination in some populations is related to frequent inoculation rather than long survival. It is plausible that hand contamination plays a (brief) role in transmission directly, and indirectly through contamination via fomites. Regular hand washing and timely cleansing or removal of contaminated fomites may aid control of pneumococcal transmission via these routes.