Green Hotels Association
    May 2017  


Removing one’s shoes when entering a home isn’t as commonplace in the US as in some other countries. While going shoeless is considered polite for guests in Japan or Finland, hosts in the States risk catching visitors by surprise with the request. But it turns out taking your shoes off indoors isn’t just good manners. It’s good hygiene, too.

Shoes are a menagerie of microorganisms, sometimes carrying dangerous bacteria, says Kevin W. Garey, chairman of the department of pharmacy practice and traditional research at the University of Houston. Bacteria can be very hardy—hanging around in some cases for years—but so are most people.

People run little risk of falling ill because of germs clinging to their shoes unless they already suffer from an underlying condition that makes them vulnerable. The elderly and the young are also more susceptible.

But avoiding pathogenic bacteria that can cause illnesses from diarrhea to meningitis is easy, Mr. Garey says. Just take your shoes off. “It’s amazing how far humans travel during the day, and all that walking drags in germs and bugs,” he says.

Mr. Garey was among a group of researchers who published a study this year focusing on the prevalence of a specific bacterium, Clostridium difficile, also known as C. diff. It was responsible for nearly a half-million infections in the US that resulted in some 29,000 deaths in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Over two years, Mr. Garey’s study tested for C. diff in more than 2,500 samples collected around Houston.

Among samples collected in homes, 26.4% of shoe soles tested positive for C. Diff, about three times the number found on bathroom and kitchen surfaces.

And that’s just one bacterium. In an earlier investigation, Mr.Garey examined past studies to learn if “shoe soles are a vector for infectious pathogens.”

The answer was a resounding yes. Among the studies: Austrian researchers found at least 40% of shoes carried Listeria monocytogenes in 2015 And a 2014 German study found that over a quarter of boots used on farms carried E.coli.

“Essentially, when you wear your shoes in a house, you are bringing in everything you stepped in during the day,” says Jonathan Sexton, a laboratory manager at the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public health at the University of Arizona.

Wiping your feet, however vigorously, on a welcome mat, provides only limited help, he says. “It will remove some of the dirt, but you have to think of the person who wiped their feet before. You might be picking up stuff they left behind.”

Minaya, Ezequiel, Should You Take Off Your Shoes?, The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2017

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Avoiding Illnesses

Avoiding pathogenic bacteria that can cause illnesses from diarrhea to meningitis is easy. Just take your shoes off!





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