Empty hospital bed on hospital ward in a clean room

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — Hospitals are known to be unclean places when it comes to bacteria. As more patients arrive, researchers have continued to show how antibiotic-resistant strains can spread fast and infect more people. A new study finds the floors of medical facilities are particularly filled with germs. Researchers say, while the floor doesn’t seem like a threatening place for bacteria to live, these pathogens quickly attach themselves to people and surfaces throughout a patient’s room.

“If bacteria stayed on floors this wouldn’t matter, but we’re seeing clear evidence that these organisms are transferred to patients, despite our current control efforts,” says epidemiologist Curtis Donskey from the Cleveland VA Medical Center in a media release. “Hand hygiene is critical, but we need to develop practical approaches to reduce underappreciated sources of pathogens to protect patients.”

A team from the Northeast Ohio VA Healthcare System examined bacteria contamination in the hospital rooms of 17 newly admitted patients. The study was looking to find how fast new pathogens spread and what route they take to contaminate nearby surfaces.

Before each room was occupied, the facilities were thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. The patients coming in also tested negative for harmful antibiotic-resistant bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The study monitored the rooms as health care workers interacted with patients and brought portable medical equipment in and out. Researchers collected samples from patients, socks, beds, highly-touched surfaces, and floors one to three times a day.

Bacteria spreads alarmingly fast in hospital rooms

The results reveal nearly half of the hospital rooms tested positive for MRSA with the first 24 hours of a patient’s stay. Pathogens including MRSA, C. difficile, and vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) were found in 58 percent of rooms within four days.

Study authors say these contaminations started on the floors, but shifted to socks and bedding items soon after.

“While we’re showing that these scary sounding bugs can make their way into a patient’s room and near them, not everyone who encounters a pathogen will get an infection,” says Sarah Redmond, a medical student at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. “With that in mind, are there simple ways to address these areas of exposure without placing too much emphasis on the risk?”

Researchers say related studies have uncovered similar bacterial spreads in hospital wards dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. The study says SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, frequently migrates from facility floors to the shoes of health care workers.

In those wards, health officials reduced this contamination by modifying standard floor cleaning and disinfection protocols in hospitals.

The finding are being presented at Decennial 2020: The Sixth International Conference on Healthcare-Associated Infections. The event was originally scheduled in March 2020, but was postponed due to the pandemic.

The study also appears in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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