Shoe soles as a potential vector for pathogen transmission: a systematic review

J Appl Microbiol. 2016 Nov;121(5):1223-1231. doi: 10.1111/jam.13250. Epub 2016 Sep 19.


Shoe soles are possible vectors for infectious diseases. Although studies have been performed to assess the prevalence of infectious pathogens on shoe soles and decontamination techniques, no systematic review has ever occurred. The aim of this study was to perform a systematic review of the literature to determine the prevalence of infectious agents on shoe bottoms and possible decontamination strategies. Three electronic bibliographic databases were searched using a predefined search strategy evaluating prevalence of infectious pathogens on shoe bottoms and decontamination strategies. Quality assessment was performed independently by two reviews with disagreements resolved by consensus. Thirteen studies were identified that supported the hypothesis that shoe soles are a vector for infectious pathogens. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium difficile and multidrug-resistant Gram-negative species among other pathogens were documented on shoe bottoms in the health care setting, in the community and among food workers. Fifteen studies were identified that investigated decontamination strategies for shoe soles. A number of decontamination strategies have been studied of which none have been shown to be consistently successful at disinfecting shoe soles. In conclusion, a high prevalence of microbiological pathogens was identified from shoe soles studied in the health care, community and animal worker setting. An effective decontamination strategy for shoe soles was not identified. Studies are needed to assess the potential for contaminated shoes to contribute to the transmission of infectious pathogens.

Keywords: Clostridium difficile; Staphylococcus aureus; bacterial infections; decontamination methods; epidemiology; infectious disease transmission.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Bacterial Infections / transmission
  • Clostridioides difficile / isolation & purification
  • Decontamination*
  • Disinfection
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus / isolation & purification
  • Shoes*