Privacy Curtains Making Workers Sick

December 28, 2018

According to a pilot study recently published in the American Journal of Infection Control, hospital patient privacy curtains harbor antibiotic-resistant bacteria and are at high risk of cross-contamination. Healthcare workers, patients, and visitors may all therefore be exposed to methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a dangerous strain of bacteria.

The study’s researchers measured the contamination levels on ten freshly-laundered curtains over 21 days to determine the most opportune time for cleaning or replacement.

Hospital Privacy Curtains: Often Touched but Infrequently Changed

According to the study’s lead author, the curtains pose a high risk for cross-contamination because they are high-touch surfaces. People are more likely to wash their hands after touching patients or other objects in the hospital than they are to wash them after touching privacy curtains. The curtains can therefore be breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, such as MRSA.

What is MRSA?

MRSA is a pathogen, also known as a “superbug,” that is resistant to many forms of antibiotics. It is extremely dangerous, especially for those with already-weakened immune systems, such as patients in hospitals. Although staph germs on the skin do not typically cause problems, they can sometimes lead to serious, incurable infections.

MRSA may be spread to healthcare workers, patients, or visitors. In addition to unwashed hands, it can be spread through contact with contaminated items in the hospital, including bed linens, medical equipment, and patient privacy curtains.

Although there are certain antibiotics that can kill MRSA, other forms of treatment such as surgery may be necessary. Those who contract MRSA should seek treatment as soon as possible, because it spreads quickly and can cause life-threatening health problems such as sepsis, pneumonia, or bloodstream infections if left untreated.

Findings on Privacy Curtain Contamination

The study examined ten curtains, eight of which were from patient areas (none of whom had MRSA) and two of which were control curtains from nonpatient areas. Two spots on the curtains near the edges where they are most often touched were tested every few days over the course of three weeks. Microbial contamination was evident by day three; and by day 14, five of the eight curtains from patient areas tested positive for MRSA.

After being hung, the curtains showed increased presence of MRSA between days 10 and 14. By day 21, almost all the curtains exceeded the safe limit of colony-forming units (CFUs) of 2.5 CFU/cm.

The study’s authors therefore conclude that the most opportune time to either clean or replace hospital privacy curtains is 14 days after being hung.

Hospital workers, patients, and visitors can be safeguarded from cross-contamination by maintaining a regular cleaning schedule for privacy curtains and placing more emphasis on maintaining a clean environment.

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