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You might want to use an elbow to push the elevator button the next time you are in a hospital.

A new study suggests that elevator buttons in hospitals have more bacteria on them than surfaces in hospital bathrooms.

Swabs taken from 120 different elevator buttons and 96 toilet surfaces in three different hospitals in Toronto found more bugs on the buttons than in the bathrooms.

The researchers says the types of bacteria they found on the buttons were for the most part benign but that might not always be the case.

They say it is important that hospital staff and visitors remember to clean their hands after pushing elevator buttons or use an elbow to operate the unit.

Their findings are published in the journal Open Medicine.

"Elevators are touched repeatedly by ungloved hands by multiple individuals who will later go on to contact patients," explains Dr. Donald Redelmeier, director of clinical epidemiology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and senior author of the study.

"We observed that the majority of elevator buttons were colonized by bacteria that were not pathologic in most cases — but the overall prevalence rate exceeded toilet surfaces."

Sixty-one per cent of the elevator buttons they tested were colonized with bacteria, compared to 43 per cent of the toilet surfaces tested. In the bathrooms, the surfaces tested were the door handles on the inside and outside of the main door, the privacy latch and the toilet flusher.