Comparison of Standard Culture-Based Method to Culture-Independent Method for Evaluation of Hygiene Effects on the Hand Microbiome

mBio. 2017 Mar 28;8(2):e00093-17. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00093-17.


Hands play a critical role in the transmission of microbiota on one's own body, between individuals, and on environmental surfaces. Effectively measuring the composition of the hand microbiome is important to hand hygiene science, which has implications for human health. Hand hygiene products are evaluated using standard culture-based methods, but standard test methods for culture-independent microbiome characterization are lacking. We sampled the hands of 50 participants using swab-based and glove-based methods prior to and following four hand hygiene treatments (using a nonantimicrobial hand wash, alcohol-based hand sanitizer [ABHS], a 70% ethanol solution, or tap water). We compared results among culture plate counts, 16S rRNA gene sequencing of DNA extracted directly from hands, and sequencing of DNA extracted from culture plates. Glove-based sampling yielded higher numbers of unique operational taxonomic units (OTUs) but had less diversity in bacterial community composition than swab-based sampling. We detected treatment-induced changes in diversity only by using swab-based samples (P < 0.001); we were unable to detect changes with glove-based samples. Bacterial cell counts significantly decreased with use of the ABHS (P < 0.05) and ethanol control (P < 0.05). Skin hydration at baseline correlated with bacterial abundances, bacterial community composition, pH, and redness across subjects. The importance of the method choice was substantial. These findings are important to ensure improvement of hand hygiene industry methods and for future hand microbiome studies. On the basis of our results and previously published studies, we propose recommendations for best practices in hand microbiome research.IMPORTANCE The hand microbiome is a critical area of research for diverse fields, such as public health and forensics. The suitability of culture-independent methods for assessing effects of hygiene products on microbiota has not been demonstrated. This is the first controlled laboratory clinical hand study to have compared traditional hand hygiene test methods with newer culture-independent characterization methods typically used by skin microbiologists. This study resulted in recommendations for hand hygiene product testing, development of methods, and future hand skin microbiome research. It also demonstrated the importance of inclusion of skin physiological metadata in skin microbiome research, which is atypical for skin microbiome studies.

Keywords: hand; hygiene; microbiome methods; skin bacteria; skin microbiome.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bacteriological Techniques / methods*
  • DNA, Bacterial / chemistry
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal / chemistry
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Female
  • Hand Disinfection / methods*
  • Humans
  • Metagenomics / methods*
  • Microbiota / drug effects*
  • Montana
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3709684.v1