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Report: ‘Superbugs' Spread Through the Air in Hospital Wards

Researchers say room layout contributes to contamination (Oct. 11)

Hospital “superbugs” can float on air currents and contaminate surfaces far from infected patients’ beds, according to an October 11 announcement from researchers at the University of Leeds in the U.K.

The results of the new study may explain why, despite strict cleaning regimes and hygiene controls, some hospitals still struggle to prevent bacteria moving from patient to patient.

It is already recognized that hospital superbugs, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile, can be spread through contact, the researchers said. Patients, visitors, or even hospital staff can inadvertently touch surfaces contaminated with bacteria and then pass the infection on to others.

In additon, the new study has shown that coughing, sneezing, or simply shaking the bedclothes can send superbugs into flight, allowing them to contaminate recently cleaned surfaces.

Doctoral student Marco-Felipe King used a biological aerosol chamber to replicate conditions in one- and two-bed hospital rooms. He released tiny aerosol droplets containing S. aureus from a heated mannequin simulating the heat emitted by a human body. He placed open Petri dishes where other patients’ beds, bedside tables, chairs, and washbasins might be and then checked where the bacteria landed and grew. The results confirmed that contamination can spread to surfaces across a ward.

The researchers hope that computer modeling will help them determine the risk of contamination. Their findings were compared with airflow simulations of the mock-up hospital rooms, and the research team found that they can accurately predict how airborne particles will be deposited on surfaces.

“Using our understanding of airflow dynamics, we can now use these models to investigate how different ward layouts and different positions of windows, doors, and air vents could help prevent microorganisms being deposited on accessible surfaces,” said King.

The findings were published in the journal Building and Environment.

For more information, visit the University of Leeds Web site.

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