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Hospital Privacy Curtains May Shroud Resistant Bacteria

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 08 Oct 2018
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A new study suggests that hospital privacy curtains can pose a serious threat to patient safety by harboring resistant bacteria.

Researchers at the University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, Canada) and the Health Sciences Centre (HSC; Winnipeg, Canada) conducted a prospective study to track the contamination rate of 10 freshly laundered polyester/cotton blend privacy curtains (eight test curtains surrounding patient beds and two controls) in the HSC regional burns and plastics unit. Over 21 days, cultures were taken using contact plates near the edge hem, where they are most frequently touched. Microbial contamination and presence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) were determined.

The results revealed that the curtains had minimal contamination when they were first hung. At day 10, the curtains showed increased positivity, and by day 14, 87.5% of the curtains tested positive for MRSA; none of the rooms where the curtains were placed were occupied by patients that had MRSA. By day 21, almost all curtains exceeded 2.5 CFU/cm of MRSA. In contrast, the control curtains, which were not placed in patient rooms, stayed clean for the entire 21 days. The study was published in the September 2018 issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.

“We know that privacy curtains pose a high risk for cross-contamination because they are frequently touched, but infrequently changed,” said lead author Kevin Shek, BSc, of the University of Manitoba. “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.”

Hospital privacy curtains surrounding patient beds are at a high risk for cross-contamination for several reasons. First, they are frequently touched by the freshly washed hands of healthcare workers before touching patients; second, they often hang in place for weeks or months without being changed; and third, many people are less likely to disinfect their hands after contact with inanimate objects. Privacy curtains embedded with antimicrobial technology may play a future role in decreasing transmission of healthcare associated pathogens.

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