Hospital Curtains Potential Source of Deadly Bacteria

Hospital privacy curtains are frequently sources of infectious, potentially dangerous bacteria, researchers said at an infectious diseases conference in Chicago earlier this week.

In research presented Monday during the 51st Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy on Monday, Dr. Michael Ohl of the University of Iowa and colleagues swabbed 43 hospital curtains two times a week for a period of three weeks.

According to Reuters reporter Fran Lowry, Ohl’s team looked at a total of 180 samples and found germs on 119 of them. Furthermore, Lowry wrote on Thursday, 26% of them tested positive for the “potentially deadly antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria known as MRSA,” while 44% contained some form of antibiotic-resistant Enterococcus bacteria.

In addition, the researchers put 13 new curtains in a hospital as part of the study. Within one week’s time, all but one of them had become contaminated, Reuters reported. A total of 41 of 43 curtains analyzed had been contaminated at least once during the course of the study.

“There is growing recognition that the hospital environment plays an important role in the transmission of infections in the health care setting and it’s clear that these (privacy curtains) are potentially important sites of contamination because they are frequently touched by patients and providers,” Dr. Ohl told Lowry.

“The vast majority of curtains showed contamination with potentially significant bacteria within a week of first being hung, and many were hanging for longer than three or four weeks,” he added. “We need to think about strategies to reduce the potential transfer of bacteria from curtains to patients.”

Among the strategies he suggests are for health care professionals to wash their hands after pulling the curtain and before interacting with their patient, as well as disinfecting on a more frequent basis.

In an email sent to CBS News, Dr. Robert Glatter, and editorial board member for Medscape Emergency Medicine, said that patients “should not be intimidated or afraid to ask doctors if they washed their hands after noticing the provider touched a medical curtain.”

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