Brian Cunningham and invention

A Dublin entrepreneur who has developed a unique system to sanitise door handles automatically is hoping that heightened public awareness of the risk of swine flu could significantly benefit his business and help combat the spread of the disease.

Brian Cunningham, who took a job as a taxi driver to support his dream of bringing his 'handle hygiene' product to fruition, has attracted interest in the invention from hospitals, supermarkets, food companies and others.

He had the idea for the product after his late father contracted MRSA in hospital three years ago. Based on a simple patented lever mechanism which Cunningham developed himself, it involves the placing of a small box above a door handle which then releases a light spray of antibacterial product onto the handle when the door is opened or closed.

No batteries or power supply is required as the action of the door is what causes the spray to be discharged.

Trials on the product, which were conducted in canteens, staff and public toilets at a major public hospital and analysed at Trinity College Dublin, revealed that it significantly reduced the risk of contamination.

Door handles, and particularly toilet door handles, are a well-known source of harmful bacteria that can cause the spread of serious infections such as MRSA and swine flu.

Another effect of the product is that it can help to sterilise the hands of anyone who comes into contact with the handle, although this is not its primary function, according to Cunningham.

"We are trying to catch somebody who has not washed their hands after coughing or sneezing for example," he said. "The real purpose of this is to ensure the handle itself is going to be germ-free. It has been designed to work in conjunction with sanitiser gels and other products like that. The whole thing about this is I'm trying to address what has until now been an unaddressed problem – handles which pose a contamination risk."

Cunningham says he has had interest from various businesses and organisations, particularly in light of the swine flu pandemic and attempts to limit the spread of the disease.

Under his company's business plan, it offers to provide and install the device for free, in return for customers signing an ongoing contract with his enterprise to service the devices.

He expects to launch the product officially in the coming weeks, and hopes to employ up to 14 people.