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Harmful microbes persist on hospital surfaces after disinfection 

A new study published in the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC) has exposed a significant concern in hospital hygiene practices. 

Despite strict adherence to disinfection protocols, high-touch surfaces in hospitals are still harboring dangerous microbes, including pathogenic bacteria

This finding underscores a critical vulnerability in the ongoing battle against healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).

Not-so-well-known pathogens 

“Surfaces in the health care environment harbor both well-known and not-so-well-known human pathogens,” wrote the study authors. 

“Several not-so-well-known pathogens are skin flora or environmental bacteria, which in the right setting, can become pathogenic and cause diseases including meningitis, brain abscess, endocarditis, and bacteremia.”

Alarming findings

Conducted at the Central Texas Veterans Healthcare System, the study took place during June and July of 2022. The team sampled 400 surfaces, focusing on areas frequently touched by multiple individuals. 

These included simulation manikins used in resuscitation training, workstations on wheels, breakroom tables, bed rails, and computer keyboards at nurse’s stations. 

Astonishingly, all of these surfaces tested positive for bacterial presence, with manikins and bed rails showing the greatest variety of bacterial types.

60 different bacterial species

The researchers identified 60 different bacterial species across these samples. Of these, 18 were well-known human pathogens, and several others were potentially pathogenic under certain conditions. 

Notable among these pathogens were Enterococcus, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus, Escherichia coli, and Klebsiella aerogenes. 

Some bacteria correlated with severe conditions like bloodstream infections, meningitis, and endocarditis. Intriguingly, about half of these bacteria mirrored those found in clinical patient samples from 2022.

Continuous evolution of microbial threats

The study serves as a stark reminder of the continuous evolution of microbial threats and the need for innovative disinfection strategies in healthcare settings. 

The findings call for a reassessment of current practices and the development of more effective cleaning protocols and educational efforts. 

“It is a continuing frustration to healthcare professionals that HAIs persist despite rigorous attention to disinfection practices,” said study senior author Dr. Piyali Chatterjee.

“Our study clearly shows the bioburden associated with high-touch hospital surfaces – including simulation manikins, which are not typically regarded as a risk because patients rarely touch them – and indicates that we must do better in protecting the health of our patients and our hospital employees.”

Study implications

As the fight against HAIs intensifies, the research highlights the importance of vigilance and innovation in maintaining the highest standards of hospital hygiene.

“This study underscores the critical value of infection prevention and control efforts in our healthcare systems,” said Dr. Tania Bubb.

“By understanding the gaps in our current disinfection protocols, we can focus on developing more effective protocols and education strategies to prevent the spread of dangerous organisms and better protect patients and healthcare workers from HAIs.”

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