While hospital curtains give patients and their families privacy while they’re recovering in a ward, a new study has found the sheets of fabric may actually harbour dangerous germs.
Without proper and timely intervention, experts warn that hospital curtains can easily become a breeding ground for drug-resistant bacteria, increasing the health risk to patient safety. The research, published in the American Journal of Infection Control, came to the conclusion after a series of studies looking into the matter.
Researchers analysed the contamination rate of 10 freshly-laundered privacy curtains in the Regional Burns/Plastic Unit of the Health Services Centre in Winnipeg, Canada. The study confirmed that the curtains had minimal contamination when they were first hung in patient rooms but over a two-week period, became increasingly contaminated. On the 14th day of the study, researchers discovered 87.5 per cent of the curtains tested positive to Staphylococcus aureus. Worryingly, the bacteria was resistant to an antibiotic known as methicillin, used to treat bacterial infections caused by Staphylococcus aureus. Left untreated, it has the potential to cause death.
Curtains that weren’t hung in patient rooms remained clean for the entire 21 days of the study. Researchers noted that the rooms where the curtains were hung were not occupied by patients with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, meaning bacteria were transported from somewhere else. Researchers tested in two double rooms and a four-bed room, as well as an area without direct patient or caregiver contact. Samples were taken from areas where people hold curtains, with researchers concluding the worrying contamination was the result of direct contact.
“We know that privacy curtains pose a high risk for cross-contamination because they are frequently touched by infrequently changed,” lead author Kevin Shek said in a statement. “The high rate of contamination that we saw by the 14th day may represent an opportune time to intervene, either by cleaning or replacing the curtains.”
By the 21st day, researchers discovered almost all the curtains exceeded the requirement for food processing equipment cleanliness in many locations around the world. Something as simple as setting up a regular cleaning schedule could prevent the bacteria from transporting around the hospital. Researchers noted that larger studies should be conducted to confirm the results of this study.
The latest study comes weeks after a study found antibiotic-resistant superbugs were spreading through many hospitals around the world without detection. Staphylococcus epidermidis, bacteria commonly found on human skin and resistant to many antibiotics, was capable of causing untreatable infections.
A study published in the Nature Microbiology Journal found three drug-resistant strains of Staphylococcus epidermidis have been spreading around the world, causing particular problems for patients who are immunocompromised or have prosthetic materials such as catheters or joint replacements implanted.
The bacteria can make small changes in its DNA to build resistance, meaning antibiotics that usually work aren’t effective.