How clean are the taps of Veronica Buckets in the fight against the COVID-19?

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Featured Article by Dr. Courage Kosi Setsoafia Saba, Microbiologist in the Department of Biotechnology of UDS.

Even before Ghana recorded its first cases of the COVID-19, a plastic bucket with a tap popularly called the ‘Veronica Bucket’ was recommended for use by Ghanaians. This is normally made from any plastic container with a tap.

After the first cases were reported, there was a shortage of Veronica buckets that were prefabricated as more Ghanaians buy them to follow the hand washing guidelines recommended by the WHO and reiterated by the Ministry of Health to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2. Hand washing with soap and clean water is said to make the hands clean of any suspected SARS-CoV-2, which could enter the nose, mouth or eyes to cause COVID-19.

In a developing country like Ghana, where the automatic hand washing machines are very expensive and limited, the Veronica Bucket was the closest to help fight the COVID-19. However, it has a disadvantage, which when not taken into consideration before use could expose the user to contaminations from the tap including SARS-CoV-2, since the user must open the tap before washing the hands and close it after washing the hands. People who are highly aware of this disadvantage use tissue to turn the tap before and after using in order to prevent their hands from directly touching the tap.

Even though most people presume that there might be microbes on the taps, there has not been any study in Ghana to actually establish the prevalence rates of microbes on the taps of Veronica Buckets.

The primary action of hand washing is the mechanical removal of viable transient  and resident microorganisms, whereas the primary action of antimicrobial soap includes both mechanical removal and killing or inhibition of both transient and resident flora.

 The presence of Escherichia coli (E. coli) indicates contamination with faeces. It is naturally found in the faeces of humans and animals.  Its presence is an indication that other pathogenic organisms being it bacteria, viruses, or parasites may be present. Its presence also indicates that there is poor hygiene since it can be spread from one own’s faeces or from contact surfaces that have already been contaminated. It usually does not cause diseases in healthy individuals when consume, but those whose immune systems are already weak such as sick people, very old people, pregnant women and children.

 The presence of Staphylococcus aureus on taps, which is also a resident organism on the skin, may also indicate generally poor hygienic practices. It is also known that about 25% to 30% of people and animals naturally have Staphylococcus aureus on their skin and in their nose. This means that people who naturally carry Staphylococcus aureus can contaminate the taps before washing their hands. It usually does not cause illness in healthy people, but Staphylococcus  aureus has the ability to produce toxins that can cause food poisoning.

With the Tamale Metropolis as a case study, we sampled one hundred and twenty-four (124) taps of Veronica Buckets that were publicly used in front of banks, restaurants, and offices, shops, supermarkets to determine the prevalence of Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. We have also swabbed the hands of 60 different clients using the Veronica Bucket before and after using the tap to ascertain the cleanliness of those hands after washing.

Our results show that 20% (25/124) and 50% (62/124) of the taps of Veronica buckets were contaminated with E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus respectively in the Tamale Metropolis. These actually mean that the taps of  some Veronica buckets are likely to spread the SARS-CoV-2 that caused COVID-19 from a contaminated person’s hand that shares the same tap with non-contaminated individuals.

Moreover, hand swabs of the 102 individuals taken after using the veronica buckets indicated that 26% (27/103) and 33% (34/103) of people’s hands were still contaminated with E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus after washing their hands. There was no significant difference between those who used tissue to wipe their hands and those who did not. We were expecting a lower prevalence of microbes on the hands of those who wiped their hands with tissue before the swabs were taken and those who did not. Twenty two percent (11/51) and 39% (20/51) of E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus respectively were recorded for those who wiped their hands with tissue before swabs were taken, while 31% (16/52) and 27% (14/52) of E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus respectively wererecorded for hands swabs without wiping with tissue. This means that whether people used tissue or not, a number of people still had microbes in their hands. We must admit that all the blames cannot be put on the taps of the Veronica buckets, but also the cleanliness of the water and the containers used to store water for hand washing.

We recommend that:

  1. People use tissue to open and close the taps of the Veronica buckets in order to prevent direct contact with the tap.
  2. People use their elbows, if possible, to open and close taps to avoid direct contact of their hands with the tap
  3. Water being used in the Veronica buckets must be clean and the container washed regularly
  4. We encourage people using the veronica buckets to provide clean tissue by them since we observed that those who wiped their hands with tissue had no microbial growth on their hands.
  5. We also encourage users to also frequently dispose of the waste water as they can splash on the hands of users and recontaminte their hands.
  • Hands-free hand washing systems should be promoted since users will not touch the taps which may habour microorganisms including SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19.

Locally built hand washing machine (SabaWash) to promote effective hand washing

SabaWashVeronica Bucket
Hands-free without touching a tapHands are used to turn a tap
Hands-free without touching the soap dish before dispensing the soapHands are used to touch the soap dish to dispense the soap
       3.    Prevents contamination of your                hands from the tap3.    Possible contamination of hands                from the tap
       4.    Metallic, robust and durable       4.    Plastic and easily breaks
       5.    All components in one package       5.    Components are bought separately
       6.    Has a more improved waste collection                   compartment to prevent water splashing               on the user       6.    Has a simple waste collection and waste                water may splash on the user.

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