5 Surprising Sources of Infection in Healthcare Facilities
Hospitals treat all manner of disease, infection, and injury. But no matter what the reason for a patient’s hospital visit, the worst case scenario sees that patient acquiring an infection in the facility that they didn’t have when they came in. These hospital-acquired infections can be difficult and costly to treat, resulting in unnecessary patient discomfort and sometimes worse. It is critical that healthcare facilities keep infection control top of mind to avoid HAIs as much as possible, but it is not always as easy as it seems.
Of course there are certain places and scenarios that are obviously ripe for infection -- a surgical suite, a patient bathroom -- but others are much less obvious. Following are five surprising places that studies have found dangerous bacteria lurking in a hospital setting.
According to one recent study performed on a brand new hospital, the bedrail of a patient room can be one of the most infectious surfaces. The study found that of all hospital surfaces tested, it was the bedrail bacteria that most resembled the bacteria found on the patients themselves. These findings indicate that bedrails are a nearly ideal surface for picking up bacteria and must be thoroughly sterilized between patients in order to stem the spread of dangerous infections.
2. Computer Mice
Easy to overlook in a cleaning and sterilization process, computer mice can certainly be a source of infection in healthcare environments. These small computer accessories are touched by every person that uses a computer making it easy to spread bacteria from one user to the next and ultimately onto patients. With computers at every nurse’s station and increasingly in patient exam rooms as well, keeping their parts well-sterilized can be a difficult but necessary struggle.
3. Dry Erase Markers
A different study found that, like computer mice, dry erase markers and erasers can be a source of infection due to the fact that they are used by so many people and easily overlooked by cleaning staff. One suggestion for ensuring sure elements are properly cleaned is the implementation of a sterilization checklist so nothing is forgotten during the cleaning process.
Interestingly, the same study that showed bedrails are an ideal breeding ground for the bacteria a patient brings into the hospital also found that in a majority of instances, hospital-acquired infections are the result of bacteria that patients already had when they entered the facility. That is, although everything on this list is a potential source of infection, many patients do not actually pick up new infections at the hospital but rather may become more susceptible to the bacteria they already harbor.
5. Healthcare Worker Hands
Healthcare workers, including physicians and nurses, are perhaps one of the least surprising sources of infection listed here. Not only can HCWs transfer their own bacteria to patients, but when proper hand washing protocol is not followed, they can also transfer bacteria from one patient to another. Indeed, it was this type of bacteria transfer that first indicated hand washing should be implemented to improve patient safety, more than a century ago. While enforcing hand hygiene is not always as easy as it should be, it can make a major different in infection rates.
Better infection control protocols are the best way to ensure these sources of infection do not become problematic for patients. However, some hospital systems are trying other methods as well. For instance, Dignity Health had implement a patient engagement program to reduce infection after surgical procedures. By educating patients as to their procedure and instructing them early on how to prepare for their procedure and how to follow up, the hope is that infections will be reduced.
At the end of the day, infection control is the job of every healthcare worker, facilities worker, patient and even every visitor at a healthcare facility. Being aware of potential sources of infection can be an important step to a more thorough and effective infection control process.