Work clothes as a vector for microorganisms: Accumulation, transport, and resuspension of microorganisms as demonstrated for waste collection workers

Tidsskriftartikel - 2022

Resume

Work clothes may act as a vector for the transport of microorganisms leading to second-hand exposure; however, this has not been studied in work environments. We investigated whether microorganisms accumulate on workers’ clothes in environments with elevated microbial exposures, and whether they are transported with the clothes and subsequently resuspended to inhalable air. To study this, we selected waste collection workers and potential transport of bacteria and fungi to waste truck cabs via clothes, and compared the microbial communities within truck cabs, in waste collection workers’ personal exposure, and on clean T-shirts worn by the workers. Microbial communities were also investigated for the presence of potentially harmful microorganisms. Results showed that microorganisms accumulated in large quantities (GM = 3.69×105 CFU/m2/h for bacteria, GM = 8.29×104 CFU/m2/h for fungi) on workers’ clothes. The concentrations and species composition of airborne fungi in the truck cabs correlated significantly with the accumulation and composition of fungi on clothes and correlated to concentrations (a trend) and species composition of their personal exposures. The same patterns were not found for bacteria, indicating that work clothes to a lesser degree act as a vector for bacteria under waste collection workers’ working conditions compared to fungi. Several pathogenic or allergenic microorganisms were present, e.g.: Klebsiella oxytoca, K. pneumoniae, Proteus mirabilis, Providencia rettgeri, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Aspergillus fumigatus, A. glaucus, A. nidulans, A. niger, and various Penicillium species. The potential ‘take-home’ exposure to these microorganisms are of most concern for immunocompromised or atopic individuals or people with open wounds or cuts. In conclusion, the large accumulation of microorganisms on workers’ clothes combined with the overlap between fungal species for the different sample types, and the presence of pathogenic and allergenic microorganisms forms the basis for encouragement of good clothing hygiene during and post working hours.

Reference

Møller SA, Rasmussen PU, Frederiksen MW, Madsen A. Work clothes as a vector for microorganisms: Accumulation, transport, and resuspension of microorganisms as demonstrated for waste collection workers. Environment International 2022;161:107112.
doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2022.107112

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