Vacuum dust: A previously unknown disease vector

September 30, 2013
A vacuum is tested inside the clean air wind tunnel. Credit: Caroline Duchaine

The aerosolized dust created by vacuums contain bacteria and mold that "could lead to adverse effects in allergic people, infants, and people with compromised immunity," according to researchers at the University of Queensland and Laval University. Their findings are published ahead of print in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

This finding is worrying as the study found resistance genes for five common antibiotics in the sampled along with the Clostridium botulinum toxin gene. This is of particular concern as, "The dust found indoors could act as a vehicle for infant botulism infection that can have severe consequences," including , according to previous studies.

"Even though no quantitative data are available for gene emission while vacuuming, the observed emission rates for bacteria might suggest that the genetic content of those bacterial cells, including antibiotic resistance genes, may contribute to indoor bioaerosol exposure," explain the researchers.

Researchers used a special clean air wind tunnel to measure vacuum emissions from 21 vacuums of varying quality and age. The clean air wind tunnel enabled them to eliminate other sources of particles and bacteria, says Knibbs. "That way, we could confidently attribute the things we measured purely to the vacuum cleaner."

The results were in accord with earlier studies which have shown human skin and hair to be important sources of bacteria in floor dust and indoor air—which can be readily resuspended and inhaled, says report co-author, Caroline Duchaine.

Knibbs hopes that other studies will follow this one, raising the profile of potential indoor sources of culprits in unsolved medical cases. The investigators conclude their report, saying that vacuum cleaners are "underrepresented in indoor aerosol and bioaerosol assessment and should be considered, especially when assessing cases of allergy, asthma, or infectious diseases without known environmental reservoirs for the pathogenic or causative microbe."

Explore further: Older, cheaper vacuum cleaners release more bacteria and dust: study

More information:

Related Stories

With you in the room, bacteria counts spike

March 28, 2012

A person's mere presence in a room can add 37 million bacteria to the air every hour -- material largely left behind by previous occupants and stirred up from the floor -- according to new research by Yale University engineers.

Allergies may plague renters more than homeowners

August 3, 2012

(HealthDay) -- People with common indoor allergies who rent their home are much less likely than homeowners to make changes that would ease their allergy symptoms, researchers have found.

Antibiotics: Change route of delivery to mitigate resistance

June 26, 2013

New research suggests that the rapid rise of antibiotic resistance correlates with oral ingestion of antibiotics, raising the possibility that other routes of administration could reduce the spread of resistance. The manuscript ...

Recommended for you

Closer look reveals tubule structure of endoplasmic reticulum

October 28, 2016

(—A team of researchers from the U.S. and the U.K. has used high-resolution imaging techniques to get a closer look at the endoplasmic reticulum (ET), a cellular organelle, and in so doing, has found that its structure ...

Computer model is 'crystal ball' for E. coli bacteria

October 28, 2016

It's difficult to make predictions, especially about the future, and even more so when they involve the reactions of living cells—huge numbers of genes, proteins and enzymes, embedded in complex pathways and feedback loops. ...

Ten months in the air without landing

October 27, 2016

Common swifts are known for their impressive aerial abilities, capturing food and nest material while in flight. Now, by attaching data loggers to the birds, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.