Where Do Pathogens Hide in Hospital Rooms?
Lurking ‘superbugs’ take refuge in these top 10 spots
An estimated 100,000 Americans die annually from health care-associated infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s more than the death toll from AIDS, breast cancer and car accidents combined. Despite this alarming statistic, many Americans still view hospitals as safe havens, but that could be changing as news of the rising number of hospital-acquired infections across the nation continues to be uncovered.
On the other side of the curtain, hospital administrators are heightening efforts to rid their environments of the nasty pathogens that cause these HAIs. These efforts are especially important and timely in the wake of more rigid penalties packaged into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for hospitals who report high rates of HAIs, coupled with the looming threat of losing valuable reimbursement from Medicare, Medicaid and many private insurance companies for readmissions due to these preventable infections.
These HAIs are the result of hardy pathogens – such as Clostridium difficile, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Acinetobacter spp. and vancomycin-resistant enterococci – that lurk in patient areas of hospitals and health care facilities. These “superbugs,” as they have been called, are sneaking past traditional methods of cleaning and disinfection and being transferred from patient to patient through contaminated surfaces in patient rooms, medical equipment and hospital staff. In fact, studies have shown that traditional cleaning methods – such as hand-cleaning – are only 50 percent effective in ridding patient areas of these stubborn pathogens, leaving patients with a 50-50 shot at making an acquaintance with a pathogen on any of the top places that they hide in hospital rooms.
So, where are these sneaky bugs taking refuge? Here are the top spots:
- Bedside rail
- Bedside table
- Overbed table
- Chair arm
- Sink counter
- Bathroom area, specifically toilet and floor
- IV pole
- Monitoring equipment
- Critical and semi-critical equipment, such as catheters and ventilators
- Hands of the health care professional
In fact, these common patient touch points are where most environmental cultures are obtained in research on the effectiveness of decontamination methods used in hospital rooms, such as a recent study published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology titled “Decontamination of Targeted Pathogens from Patient Rooms Using an Automated Ultraviolet-C-Emitting Device” (Deverick H. Anderson, M.D., MPH et al., 2013).
“The hospital environment is receiving increasing attention as a source for acquisition and spread of pathogens among hospitalized patients,” Anderson stated in the study. “In particular, four key organisms appear to survive in the environment long enough to place patients at risk. Vegetative bacteria such as MRSA, VRE and Acinetobacter spp. may persist on environmental surfaces for days or weeks. C. diff. spores can persist on environmental surfaces for up to five months.”
In addition to enhancing standard disinfection measures by hospital staff to ramp up preventive efforts, infection control experts are turning to technology such as Tru-D SmartUVCTM, a UV disinfection robot that works by generating UV light energy to modify the DNA structure of an infectious cell, virtually stopping it in its tracks. Tru-D is the device of choice for nearly all of the existing independent research on UV disinfection technology, including Anderson’s study, which is part of an ongoing $2 million study funded by the Centers for Disease Control’s Epicenter Program study at Duke University and the University of North Carolina.
The device’s patented, intuitive Sensor360TM technology is able to analyze a room’s unique variables and take into account all of the surfaces in the room, both in line-of-site and shadowed spaces – such as the underside of the bed rails or behind the chair, places where pathogens can lurk and standard hand-cleaning may miss. Then, Tru-D floods the space with the proper dose of UV light energy from the ultraviolet bulbs that run up and down its shaft, ridding the environment of the pathogens that can cause HAIs. The system can disinfect an entire room – including the shadowed spaces – from one location, eliminating the need to move it to multiple places in the room.
“Adding Tru-D to the environmental services frontline at any hospital helps eliminate human error and takes the guesswork out of complete terminal disinfection of patient areas, ensuring safe, pathogen-free environments for patients,” said Chuck Dunn, president of Tru-D LLC. “Investment in this technology can save a hospital hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties and missed reimbursements without having to increase the number of hospital staff. And when these hospitals communicate with patients about the investment in Tru-D, they confirm their commitment to patient safety and to ensuring positive patient outcomes.”
Before checking into a hospital, patients should inquire about the hospital’s infection control efforts. Ask when the room was last cleaned and what methods were used. Ask if UV disinfection technology, such as Tru-D SmartUVC, was used. As a part of new preventive measures, many hospitals are testing patients for specific infections, such as MRSA, as part of the check-in process. Additionally, particular sections of the hospital are being assigned for patients with a superbug infection to quarantine any possible spread. Find out if your hospital is using these measures before checking in. Also, pay attention to the preventive habits of attending nurses and physicians, such as washing their hands upon entering the room and using clean gloves each time. To play it safe, you can bring your own disinfecting wipes with you for a cautionary wipe down on the common danger zones mentioned above. Just be sure not to miss the underside and backside – the shadowed spaces – of the top place pathogens can hide in hospital rooms.
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