Hospital privacy curtains found to be dangerously contaminated

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Last year, Consumer Reports reported that an estimated 1.7 million Americans go to the hospital each year for one reason or another and while there wind up contracting a hospital-acquired infection. It was further estimated that as many as 100,000 of those patients die as a result.

We are beginning to gain a clearer picture on just how this is happening.

Several weeks ago, a paper in the American Journal of Infection Control presented data that showed that 63 percent of the uniforms and scrubs worn by medical professionals (60 doctors and 75 nurses) in the hospital setting (specifically at Hebrew University's Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem) were contaminated with harmful bacteria.

Now, in a paper titled "Hospital Privacy Curtains are Frequently and Rapidly Contaminated with Potentially Pathogenic Bacteria," researchers from Iowa presented data at an infectious disease conference in Chicago that revealed just how contaminated hospital room privacy curtains can be.

In all, researchers took 180 lab cultures from 43 curtains in 30 hospital rooms. The results:

- 41 of the 43 curtains were found to be contaminated.

- Of 13 newly installed curtains, 12 had become contaminated within a week.

- Over one-fifth of tested curtains contained the disease-causing bacterium Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

- Over two-fifths contained vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE),another disease-causing bacterium.

The potential solution to this major health crisis may be as simple as health care professionals washing their hands more often.

Further Reading

"Hospital Privacy Curtains are Frequently and Rapidly Contaminated with Potentially Pathogenic Bacteria".

Wiener-Well Y et al. Nursing and physician attire as possible source of nosocomial infections. Am J Infect Control. 2011 Sep;39(7):555-9.

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