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Hand-washing expert’s scanner shows you all the spots you may have missed

Christine Schindler, the CEO and co-founder of PathSpot, might be the world’s only “hand-washing expert.” Now, as coronavirus turns the world upside down and experts advise that hand-washing may be our best defense, Schindler’s unusual expertise — and the device she invented — have taken on new importance.

With a background in public health and biomedical engineering, Schindler started her career in Tanzania, where she developed low-cost medical devices to test for illnesses like breast or cervical cancer. When she moved back to the U.S., she applied that experience to a problem she said she saw happening a lot around her: Food-borne illnesses.

“I felt like people were constantly getting sick, and I found out that 89 percent of contaminants pass through kitchens,” she told Digital Trends.

In 2017, Schindler invented the PathSpot hand scanner, a small, low-cost device that can detect the amount of contaminant on a person’s hands with a simple scan. More specifically, it will detect common bacteria like E. coli and salmonella that often lead to foodborne illnesses.

“I haven’t met many other people who are as obsessed with hand washing as I am,” she told Digital Trends with a laugh.

PathSpot hand washing scanner

Her machine doesn’t test for COVID-19 — at least not yet, Schindler said. The machine isn’t designed to detect contaminants that are mostly airborne like coronavirus. However, it is able to test for the presence of fecal matter, and according to Schindler, there is research being done into whether this is a source of coronavirus.

In the meantime, we could all get better at hand washing. Schindler says that 98 percent of the time when people fail tests, it’s because they’ve missed some specific spots on their hands: _n and around jewelry, wrists, and underneath the fingernails. And, Schindler said, if you’re missing those spots, you’re likely missing others. Also, make sure you dry your hands with a paper towel — do not just let your hands air dry.

“The virus will just dry right back onto your hands if you do that,” Schindler told DT.

Hand sanitizer is a tricky proposition, she said. The problem is you have to rub it a full 20 seconds and let it completely dry and then wait one whole minute before touching anything. That’s a long time. “You can’t just immediately touch something else,” she said.

The good news is, it’s easy to get better at hand washing.

“We do see that 20 percent of people fail the test in the first month of using the product,” Schindler said. “But after one month, that number drops by 75 percent, and after six months, it drops by 95 percent. The thing is, most people just don’t know what’s there. You can’t see or smell it.” Most of the time, she said, when her team asks a test subject how they felt about failing, they’ll say, “I just had no idea,” and start checking themselves more frequently.

Schindler said the company is currently developing a similar machine that can check for contamination on surfaces such as countertops or fridges, as well as looking to expand to farms, research and testing facilities, and even hospitals.

“It’s good that we’re able to bring awareness to hand washing in a way that hasn’t been done before,” she said. “The more people who have this knowledge, the better.”

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Maya Shwayder
I'm a multimedia journalist currently based in New England. I previously worked for DW News/Deutsche Welle as an anchor and…
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