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Hospital privacy curtains may harbor dangerous germs

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Privacy curtains in hospitals can become breeding grounds for resistant bacteria, posing a threat to patient safety, according to new research published in the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC) and the journal of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).

The pilot study tracked the contamination rate of ten freshly laundered privacy curtains in the burns/plastic ward of the Health Services Center in Winnipeg over 21 days.

By day 14, 87.5 percent of the curtains tested positive for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a pathogen associated with significant morbidity and mortality. In contrast, control curtains that were not placed in patient rooms stayed clean the entire 21 days.

Researchers took samples from areas where people hold curtains, suggesting that the increasing contamination resulted from direct contact, being frequently touched and infrequently changed. None of the rooms where the curtains were placed were occupied by patients with MRSA.

 Measures to take to reduce the spread of germs include:

“The high rate of contamination that we saw by the fourteenth day may represent an opportune time to intervene, either by cleaning or replacing the curtains,” said the study’s lead author, Kevin Shek.

“Keeping the patient’s environment clean is a critical component in preventing healthcare-associated infections,” said 2018 APIC President Janet Haas.

“Because privacy curtains could be a mode of disease transmission, maintaining a schedule of regular cleaning offers another potential way to protect patients from harm while they are in our care.”

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