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Study: Hospital Laundering Practices May Expose Patients To Infection-Causing Bacteria

ROSWELL, Ga., May 29, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- New study results published online in the American Journal of Infection Control found that 93 percent of tested laundered towels used to clean hospital rooms contained bacteria that could result in healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).

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Most people don't expect to leave the hospital sicker than when they came in, but HAIs are a significant problem, with an estimated 1.7 million cases reported annually in the United States i. While stringent disinfecting practices are in place to combat HAIs, study results show that traditional hospital laundering practices are not sufficient to remove all viable bacteria from the laundered towels. The study, " Microbial contamination of hospital reusable cleaning towels," conducted by Charles Gerba, Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology, University of Arizona, and colleagues from the University of Arizona, with support from Kimberly-Clark, found that:
  • Laundering practices were insufficient for removing potentially harmful bacteria from reusable cloth and microfiber towels commonly used to clean hospital rooms.
  • Of the total number of towels tested, 93 percent contained viable bacteria including E.coli (causes gastroenteritis), total coliforms (bacteria indicative of fecal matter) and Klebsiella (causes pneumonia, UTIs and other infections).
  • Of the total number of soak buckets containing disinfectant, 67 percent contained viable bacteria, including spore-forming bacteria (causes botulism and tetanus) and coliform bacteria.

A second, separate companion study, " Decreased activity of commercially available disinfectants containing quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) when exposed to cotton towels," also conducted by the team, found laundered cotton towels can reduce the strength of the hospital-grade disinfectants (QACs) by up to 85.3 percent.

"It is very concerning to think that the very process by which hospitals are trying to prevent the spread of bacteria, may actually be causing it," said Dr. Gerba. "Whether alone or in combination, the presence of bacteria on the towels and the inactivation of the cleaning agent may increase the risk for transmission of pathogens in hospitals. These observations indicate the need to critically reevaluate current hospital cleaning practices associated with reuse of cloth towels."

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