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Deadly germs make hospital rounds to patients

If you think a gleaming clean hospital sink would be the last place you’d find potentially deadly bacteria, you’d be wrong. A team of researchers from the University of Virginia Charlottesville have traced the pathway from hospital sink drains to vulnerable patients, according to a paper published on Friday in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Numerous papers have been published since 2010 describing bacterial colonies resistant to an important antibiotic spreading from hospital sinks and other water sources. But the UVC study showed the pathway from drain to the sink bowl and to patients.

The team started by constructing five test sinks that mimic those used at the University of Virginia hospital in Charlottesville. Then they introduced a harmless bacterial strain into the pipe and watched it expand and colonize.

“Our study demonstrates that bacterial spread from drainpipes to patients occurs via a staged mode of transmission,” said principal investigator Dr. Amy Mathers of the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health.

The bacterial growth starts in the elbow of the pipe and works its way up into the strainer at the rate of about one inch a day, taking about a week to colonize the strainer. From there it gets splattered around when water is run and ends up infecting the sick.

The next phase of the team’s sink lab research, undertaken in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will attempt to determine exactly how the dangerous pathogens reach patients, said Mathers. “This type of foundational research is needed to understand how these bacteria are transmitted so that we can develop and test potential intervention strategies that can be used to prevent further spread.”

By David Searls, Staff Writer

Source: American Society for Microbiology

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