A new health warning has been issued after researchers discovered infectious diarrhoea spores could survive after being washed in high temperatures.
Shocking new research, published in the Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology Journal, found that despite hospitals washing contaminated hospital bedsheets in commercial washing machines with industrial detergent and high disinfecting temperatures, it wasn’t enough to remove all traces of Clostridium difficile – a bacteria known to cause infectious diarrhoea. Researchers said hospital bed linen could be a source of infection among patients and even be the root of infection spreading between different hospitals.
As part of the study researchers purposely infected swatches of cotton sheets with Clostridium difficile and washed them with uncontaminated pieces of fabric. The materials were washed in either a simulated industrial washing cycle or a commercial washing cycle with naturally infected linen. Linen cleaned commercially was washed with industrial detergent, pressed, dried and finished in accordance to the National Health Service healthcare policy in the United Kingdom.
Researchers discovered that in both washing tests, the bedding failed to meet microbiological standards of contain no disease-causing bacteria. It was discovered that the full washing process reduced Clostridium difficile spore count by 40 per cent, although the process meant bacteria from contaminated sheets had transferred to uncontaminated sheets in the process.
Authors of the study concluded that current thermal disinfection conditions – at least those in place in the United Kingdom – were inadequate for the decontamination of Clostridium difficile spores. The study noted that because linen isn’t correctly decontaminated, there’s every chance that Clostridium difficile could return to hospitals and cause further outbreaks of diarrhoea. It is also feared bacteria could spread between hospitals, care facilities and laundries where linen is washed.
“The findings of this study may explain some sporadic outbreaks of C. difficile infections in hospitals from unknown sources, however, further research is required in order to establish the true burden of hospital bedsheets in such outbreaks,” lead author Katie Laird said.
“Future research will assess the parameters required to remove C. difficile spores from textiles during the laundry process.”
It’s not the first time hospital health safety has made headlines in recent times. Last month, a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control found that hospital curtains can easily become a breeding ground for drug-resistant bacteria.
The study analysed 10 freshly-laundered privacy curtains and found that over a two-week period, they became increasingly contaminated. Two weeks into the study, researchers discovered 87.5 per cent of the curtains tested positive to harmful Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.
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.