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Hospital privacy curtains prove to be laden with germs

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The privacy curtains that separate care spaces in hospitals and clinics are frequently contaminated with potentially dangerous bacteria, researchers said in Chicago this week.

To avoid spreading those bugs, health care providers should make sure to wash their hands after routine contact with the curtains and before interacting with patients, Dr. Michael Ohl…said at the 51st Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

“There is growing recognition that the hospital environment plays an important role in the transmission of infections in the health care setting and it’s clear that these (privacy curtains) are potentially important sites of contamination because they are frequently touched by patients and providers,” Dr. Ohl told Reuters Health.

Health care providers often touch these curtains after they have washed their hands and then proceed to touch the patient. Further, these curtains often hang for a long time and are difficult to disinfect…

Tests detected Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, including the especially dangerous methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), as well as various species of Enterococci — gut bacteria — some resistant to the newer antibiotic vancomycin.

The researchers used additional tests to identify specific vancomycin and methicillin-resistant strains to see whether the same strains were circulating and contaminating the curtains over and over.

The study found significant contamination that occurred very rapidly after new curtains were placed…

“The vast majority of curtains showed contamination with potentially significant bacteria within a week of first being hung, and many were hanging for longer than three or four weeks,” Dr. Ohl noted.

We need to think about strategies to reduce the potential transfer of bacteria from curtains to patients,” he added. “The most intuitive, common sense strategy is (for health care workers) to wash hands after pulling the curtain and before seeing the patient. There are other strategies, such as more frequent disinfecting, but this would involve more use of disinfectant chemicals, and then there is the possibility of using microbial resistant fabrics. But handwashing is by far the most practical, and the cheapest intervention.”

How about reinstating the traditional hospital laundry? That’s gone by the boards in many hospitals. Outsourcing to save money and keep the beancounters on the board of directors happy.

Hospitals are supposed to be about healthcare, right?

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Written by Ed Campbell

September 24, 2011 at 2:00 am

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