Hospital privacy curtains may contain deadly, drug-resistant bacteria: study

Image via Getty Images.
Image via Getty Images.

A new study on hospital cleanliness revealed some troubling results about deadly drug-resistant bacteria lingering on bedside privacy curtains.

Researchers from the University Hospital at the University of Michigan Medical Center began their study by gathering samples from the areas most touched on hospital privacy curtains from six nursing facilities in southeast Michigan. Bacterial cultures were also taken from patients when they first arrived at the facility, 14 days into their stay, and again after 30 days. When possible, samples were gathered each month for up to six months of a patient’s stay.

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Contamination rates ranged from approximately 11 to 28.5 per cent, depending on the facility. Out of the 1,521 samples taken, 22 per cent of samples tested positive for drug-resistant organisms, including the potentially fatal bacteria methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Image via Getty Images.
Image via Getty Images.

MRSA infections typically occur in healthcare facilities and nursing homes, and can lead to serious health problems such as sepsis, pneumonia and blood infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 20,000 people died of staph-related infections in 2017 while another 119,000 were treated for infection.

Dr. Lona Mody, the study’s lead researcher from the University of Michigan Medical Center discussed the findings in an interview with CTV News.

“Clearly, curtains are something that need special attention because of the fact that they’re not that easy to clean,” she said. “If it was an environment such as a countertop, you can use some wipes or you can use solutions to clean them. Curtains are not that easy.”

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Mody also noted there was no significant difference between the samples taken from privacy curtains in private and shared rooms.

“What worries me the most is the contaminated curtains and that we do not have good guidance or policy to clean them yet,” she explained. “So I think we should develop some guidance documents and advice for our health-care facilities to clean or decontaminate these curtains – or think about other strategies.”

Image via Getty Images.
Image via Getty Images.

According to infectious disease specialist Dr. Neil Rau, it’s unrealistic to suggest curtains should be considered a part of housekeeping and be changed frequently.

“To completely eliminate the risk, after every patient came and left the hospital, you would have to take down the curtain, you’d have to remove all of those 12 or 13 islets – get somebody up on a ladder – and have a backup curtain waiting, which is beautifully cleaned, that someone can then hang up,” Rau told CTV News. “There’s no way a hospital can do this after every patient.”

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Still, Mody believes her team’s findings warrant additional research.

"As privacy curtains are used all over the world, it's a global issue," she said in a news release. "Further studies are needed to determine conclusively whether contaminated privacy curtains are a source of multidrug-resistant organism transmission to patients."

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