Curtains are widely used in hospitals to offer patients privacy, but new research shows they may be doing more than that.
A new study conducted by Dr. Lona Mody, Kristen Gibson and colleagues at the University of Michigan Medical Center, University Hospital in Ann Arbor, shows hospital privacy curtains are often contaminated with multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs), which could be a source of disease transmission to patients.
Researchers conducting the study collected 1,521 samples from the edges of privacy curtains in 625 rooms in six skilled nursing facilities in Michigan.
The study’s authors also collected samples from several sites on each of the patient’s body, as well as from frequently-touched surfaces in the patient’s room.
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The study found that 22 per cent of the cultures taken from privacy curtains tested positive for MDROs, with contamination rates varying from 11.9 per cent to 28.5 per cent across the different facilities.
Of the cultures collected, researchers found 13.8 per cent were contaminated with vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), 6.2 per cent were contaminated with resistant gram-negative bacilli (R-GNB), and 4.9 per cent were contaminated with methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureous (MSRA).
The team says no statistically significant difference in contamination rates were found between private and shared rooms.
The authors of the study also found that in 15.7 per cent of sampling visits, patients were colonised with the same MDRO as their privacy curtain.
The study found patients colonised with MRSA and VRE were each associated with the contamination of the bedside curtain.
Of the 210 samples which found VRE contamination on the curtain, researchers found that 57.6 per cent of patients were also contaminated with VRE.
Conversely, the study found VRE was not detected on the curtain in 73.3 per cent of sampling visits where VRE was not present on the patient.
Co-author of the research, Dr. Lona Mody, says the hospital curtains were of particular interest because they are frequently touched with dirty hands.
“There’s an increasing recognition that hospital environments play an important role in the transmission of pathogens,” Mody, said. “Curtains, we found, are a particular issue because it is required to touch them to move them to see our patients.”
Mody says the study identified a number of ‘teaching points’ about how to limit the transmission of MDROs from hospital curtains.
“Importantly, I think the most simple recommendation, or most simple strategy, could be that everyone should just wash their hands after touching curtains, and before touching the patients,” Mody said. “That includes healthcare professionals, patients and visitors.”
Additionally, Mody says hospitals should establish a cleaning frequency for the curtains, and should have set guidelines to ensure they are kept clean and free of bacteria.
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Subsequently, Mody says a number of new, innovative options being used in some healthcare facilities could potentially help to lower the risk of transmission.
“I know in Canada they are using those retractable screens as well as screens that can become opaque,” she said. “So I think that those are some of the important future-looking strategies.”
While Mody says the scope of the study she and her colleagues conducted did not include identifying whether any of the patients involved became sick as a result of the curtain contamination, she says she encourages other researchers to raise the issue.
The findings of the study will be presented at this year’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Amsterdam later this week.