NEW YORK (October 16, 2018) -- Washing contaminated hospital bedsheets in a commercial washing machine with industrial detergent at high disinfecting temperatures failed to remove all traces of Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), a bacteria that causes infectious diarrhea, suggesting that linens could be a source of infection among patients and even other hospitals, according to a study published today in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.
"The findings of this study may explain some sporadic outbreaks of C. difficile infections in hospitals from unknown sources, however, further research is required in order to establish the true burden of hospital bedsheets in such outbreaks," said Katie Laird, PhD, Head of the Infectious Disease Research Group, School of Pharmacy, De Montfort University, Leicester, United Kingdom and lead author of the study. "Future research will assess the parameters required to remove C. difficile spores from textiles during the laundry process."
Researchers inoculated swatches of cotton sheets with C. difficile. The swatches were then laundered with sterile uncontaminated pieces of fabric using one of two different methods -- either in a simulated industrial washing cycle using a washer extractor with and without detergent or naturally contaminated linens from the beds of patients with C. difficile infection were put through a full commercial laundry where they were washed in a washer extractor (infected linen wash) with industrial detergent, pressed, dried, and finished according to current the National Health Service in the United Kingdom's healthcare laundry policy (Health Technical Memorandum 01-04 Decontamination of Linen for Health and Social Care (2016). Researchers measured the levels of contamination before and after washing.
Both the simulated and the commercial laundering via a washer extractor process failed to meet microbiological standards of containing no disease-causing bacteria, the study found. The full process reduced C. difficile spore count by only 40 percent, and this process resulted in bacteria from the contaminated sheets being transferred to the uncontaminated sheets after washing.
Researchers concluded that thermal disinfection conditions currently required by the UK National Health System are inadequate for the decontamination of C. difficile spores. There may be potential to spread C. difficile back into the hospital environment as linens could be a source for outbreaks at other healthcare facilities through businesses that collect, launder and redistribute rented linens to multiple hospitals and care facilities, as is the case at NHS facilities.
The research team, which also includes PhD student Joanna Tarrant, is working closely with the Textiles Services Association in the UK to continue research to find which combination of laundering parameters will remove C. difficile spores from hospital bedsheets.
Joanna Tarrant, Richard Jenkins, Katie Laird. "From Ward to Washer: The Survival of Clostridium difficile spores on Hospital Bedsheets through a Commercial UK NHS Healthcare Laundry Process." Web (October 16, 2018).
Published through a partnership between the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America and Cambridge University Press, Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology provides original, peer reviewed scientific articles for anyone involved with an infection control or epidemiology program in a hospital or healthcare facility. ICHE is ranked 19th out of 83 Infectious Disease Journals in the latest Web of Knowledge Journal Citation Reports from Thomson Reuters.
The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) is a professional society representing more than 2,000 physicians and other healthcare professionals around the world who possess expertise and passion for healthcare epidemiology, infection prevention, and antimicrobial stewardship. The society's work improves public health by establishing infection-prevention measures and supporting antibiotic stewardship among healthcare providers, hospitals, and health systems. This is accomplished by leading research studies, translating research into clinical practice, developing evidence-based policies, optimizing antibiotic stewardship, and advancing the field of healthcare epidemiology. SHEA and its members strive to improve patient outcomes and create a safer, healthier future for all. Visit SHEA online at http://www.
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