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Hospital Sinks and Faucets Harbor Slime and Biofilm

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 09 Jul 2019
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Dirty faucets and sinks in intensive care units (ICU) can lead to unintentional spread of bacteria and microorganisms due to contaminated water splashing out, claims a new study.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Michigan Health System (U-M; Ann Arbor, MI, USA), was designed to understand the splash potential of eight different ICU faucet spout and sink bowl/drain cover designs. To identify the grime level of the sinks, the researchers used adenosine triphosphate (ATP) monitoring to measure cleanliness, as well as microbial cultures. A splash study was performed using a fluorescent indicator. Photographs were taken to record notable findings during the audit and the splash study.

The results showed that visible biofilm was associated with higher ATP readings, and that the cultures tested over the course of the study grew Pseudomonas aeruginosa, mold, and other environmental organisms. As to design features, they found that a shallow depth of the sink bowl enabled potentially contaminated water to splash onto patient care items, healthcare worker hands, and into patient care spaces, at times to a distance of more than 1.2 meters from the sink itself. The study was presented at the 46th annual conference of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), held during June 2019 in Philadelphia (PA, USA).

“The inside of faucets where you can't clean were much dirtier than expected,” said lead author Kristen Van der Elzen, MPH, CIC. “Potentially hazardous germs in and around sinks present a quandary for infection preventionists, since having accessible sinks for hand washing is so integral to everything we promote. Acting on the information we found, we have undertaken a comprehensive faucet replacement program across our hospital.”

“As we learn more about the often stealthy ways in which germs can spread inside healthcare facilities, infection preventionists play an increasingly important role in healthcare facility design, including in the selection of sink and faucet fixtures, as this study illustrates,” said President Karen Hoffmann, RN, MS, CIC, president of APIC. “Because the healthcare environment can serve as a source of resistant organisms capable of causing dangerous infections, an organization's infection prevention and control program must ensure that measures are in place to reduce the risk of transmission from environmental sources and monitor compliance with those measures.”

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