Hospital Privacy Curtains Could Be Breeding Ground for Germs

Maricruz Casares
Abril 15, 2019

More than a fifth of 1,500 samples taken from six post-acute care nursing facilities in the United States were laced with one or more unsafe bacteria, including the hospital bug MRSA, researchers found.

"As privacy curtains are used all over the world, it's a global issue", Mody and colleagues explained in a meeting news release. They also found that 5 percent of the curtains were contaminated with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and 17 percent were contaminated with vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE). The samples were collected from the parts of the curtains touched most often.

"These pathogens on privacy curtains often survive and have the potential to transfer to other surfaces and patients", said co-author Lona Mody, a doctor and researcher for the University of Michigan Medical Center. Because of overuse of antibiotics, these bacteria have evolved the ability to withstand attempts to treat infections with drugs that once killed them.

In one in seven cases (15.7%), patients and their curtain were colonised with the same MDRO at the same time.

What's more, Mody and her team found that the same bug was contaminated on both the curtains and the patients in bed.

Mody notes that the study suggests that numerous MDROs seen on patients are also seen in their rooms early in their stay, suggesting that transmission to room surfaces is rapid.

Prof Mody said: "Patients and their privacy curtain are often contaminated with the same MDRO".

The results, in the pipeline for peer-review publication, were to be unveiled at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases in Amsterdam, running April 13-16.

"MDRO curtain contamination is common in SNFs and often reflects patient colonisation".

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"But our findings make an argument for addressing transmission of MDROs in a way that involves patients, too".

Patient privacy curtains, used in most healthcare facilities in the world, are surfaces which are subjected to frequent touching but are only cleaned infrequently, and could potentially be a mode of disease transmission.

The patients in the skilled nursing facilities were hospitalised on average 22 days.

Sampling was done when patients were admitted, and again after 14 days and 30 days, and then monthly up to six months, when possible.

Bacterial samples from 625 rooms were taken upon admission, and periodically thereafter up to six months, assuming patients were still on site.

Where six-month data could be collected, curtain contamination was often intermittent, the investigators found. These high-touch surfaces are cleaned infrequently and could contribute to pathogen transmission.

The researchers said their findings - based on "traditional microbiologic methods" - needed to be duplicated using more advanced genomic methods.

In addition to Mody and Reyes, the study team includes senior author and HFHS infectious disease physician Marcus Zervos, M.D., U-M and VAAAHS physicians Sanjay Saint and Vineet Chopra, U-M infectious disease physicians Laraine Washer and Keith Kaye, U-M geriatrics research team members Kristen Gibson, Marco Cassone and Julia Mantey; U-M bioinformatics student Jie Cao, HFHS team members Sarah Altamimi and Mary Perri, and Hugo Sax, head of infection control and hospital epidemiology at University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland.

The Canadian team called for the drapes to be regularly cleaned or replaced to avoid "unnecessary suffering" caused by people getting sick.

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