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Sinks next to patient toilets may harbour dangerous germs: study

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Sinks located next to patient toilets in hospital rooms may be reservoirs for Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase (KPC), increasing the risk of dangerous germ transmission, according to new research published in the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC), the journal of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

Klebsiella is a type of bacteria that can cause a number of healthcare-associated infections, such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections, wound infections, or surgical site infections.

The study was performed in a 600-bed hospital in Milwaukee, Wisc. In four of five rooms in which the entry-door sink tested positive, the sink near the toilet was also positive, suggesting a potential source for cross-contamination within the same room.

Sinks near toilets were four times more likely to be positive (87 per cent) than sinks farther away from toilets (22 per cent).

According to a press release, this is the first study to directly examine the relevance of sink proximity to toilets in patient rooms. The researchers point out that while it is not clear how contamination occurs, it is plausible that biofilms growing in pipes shared between toilets and sinks or that flushing generates contaminated drops that reach the sink drains.

“This study, if validated, could have major implications for infection control,” agree study authors, Blake Buchan, PhD, and Silvia Munoz-Price, MD, PhD. “If sinks next to toilets are indeed a reservoir for KPC, additional interventions – such as modified hand hygiene practices and sink disinfection protocols – may be needed to stem the risk of transmission among healthcare providers and patients alike.”

“The results of this study demonstrate the importance of remaining vigilant to potential areas of cross-contamination,” said 2019 APIC President Karen Hoffmann in a press release.

“Maintaining a strong understanding of environmental risks is critical to protecting patient safety, and this is yet another example of how germs can lurk in often the most unexpected of places.”

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