According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), healthcare-associated infections account for approximately 1.7 million infections and 99,000 associated deaths each year in United States hospitals. This leads to annual direct and indirect costs totaling between $96 and $147 billion4. Healthcare-associated infections are infections that patients get while receiving treatment in healthcare settings such as a hospital. According to the CDC, 1 out of every 25 patients develops at least one healthcare-associated infection per day in acute care hospitals in the United States. Many healthcare-associated infections are caused by serious antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can lead to death or sepsis5. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has been shown to contaminate multiple hospital surfaces such as privacy curtains, which surround patient beds. One recent study reported more than 87% of hospital curtains tested positive for MRSA by day 14. Furthermore, hospital surfaces such as floors, bed sheets, sinks, and equipment are contaminated with pathogens, such as multi-drug resistant gram-negative organisms like Acinetobacter and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which have the capacity to survive on inanimate surfaces for months1
One particular and deadly organism, Clostridium difficile (C-diff.), can be hospital acquired. C-diff. consists of symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, and profuse diarrhea. Studies have demonstrated widespread environmental contamination with C-diff. in the rooms of infected patients ranging from 2.9% to 75%. C-diff. spores can be cultured from hospital beds, bed rails, floors, and walls of hospital rooms where prior occupants have had a C-diff. infection1. Interestingly, a large retrospective cohort study showed patients who shared a bed with prior occupants who received antibiotics were at an increased risk for developing a C-diff. infection2
Healthcare workers’ hands can also transmit bacteria. Healthcare workers’ hands are a major vector for cross-transmission with an estimated 20 to 40% causing hospital-acquired infections, which commonly occurs after direct patient contact3. Stethoscopes, which physicians use to listen to patients’ heart and lung sounds, may serve as a vehicle for transmitting bacteria from one patient to another as well. In one study, cultures from 200 stethoscopes were analyzed and 80 percent of the stethoscopes harbored bacteria with the most identified microbes being gram-positive pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus. Surprisingly, surveys conducted found that 70 to 90 percent of physicians stated they failed to disinfect their stethoscopes after every patient encounter4
Scrubs, white coats, and wrist watches can all became contaminated as well. In a recent trial, researchers followed 40 nurses who were wearing traditional cotton-polyester scrubs, scrubs with silver alloy embedded in the fabric, or scrubs treated with antibacterial materials. Cultures were taken from the nurses’ scrubs, patients, and the environment that showed nurses’ scrubs frequently become contaminated with pathogens in the environment and the type of scrubs worn made no difference1
Unfortunately, disinfection procedures vary significantly among hospitals and there is no gold standard1. Until then, hospital environmental services departments and infection control committees should continue to recognize, educate staff, and implement evidence-based strategies to help prevent transmission and promote a safe environment for patients and their families.