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Intended to provide privacy, curtains between beds in hospitals may be providing a vector for infection as well.

An article in the American Journal of Infection Control calls attention to the danger posed by healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).  Seemingly harmless objects like chart markers—or even privacy curtains— may harbor dangerous bacteria.

In a small pilot study, researchers tracked the contamination rate of ten clean privacy curtains in a hospital unit of the Health Services Center in Winnipeg, Canada.  The curtains were hung and evaluated in different sections of the Center including:

  • Four curtains hung in a room with four beds
  • Four curtains used in two double rooms
  • Two control curtains hung in areas without direct caregiver or patient contact

Privacy Curtains are they Hurting or Helping?

The study was intended to develop a picture of how privacy curtains might become contaminated over time.  Hospital hygiene has a big impact on the presence and spread of bacteria that could infect patients, travel on caregivers, or reside on medical devices that provide easy access to the human body. If you or a loved one has suffered from a serious infection please contact our Baltimore hospital acquired infection lawyers today

Researchers selected privacy curtains due to their proximity to patients, the high touch rate as they are drawn open and closed, and the fact that they are not cleaned very often. Located in a high traffic, high bio-load environment, privacy curtains pose an interesting research target.

As we have discussed before, HAIs are a serious problem for healthcare providers in the United States.  About one in every 25 patients suffers a HAI as a result of their hospital stay.  Oftentimes, HAIs are serious, antibiotic-resistant conditions that can lead to longer hospital stays,  slow wound healing, sepsis, or death.

The Results

This study observed the following changes to the privacy curtains at the center of this study:

  • On day one, the polyester cotton curtains showed minimal contamination throughout the rooms where they were placed. The control curtains, which were placed out of areas where there were patient beds and caregivers, remained relatively clean during the 21-day term of the study.
  • By day three, all the curtains except the control group showed higher rates of bacterial contamination.
  • Although the curtains had not been hung in any area where an active methicillin-resistant Staphylloccocus aureus (MRSA) infection was active, by day ten, one out of eight curtains tested positive for MRSA. By day 14, five out of eight curtains were positive for the deadly bacteria.

At the least, this study shows the importance of laundering privacy curtains near hospital beds every two weeks.  And if you or a loved one is hospitalized or treated in an emergency department?  Don’t touch the curtains.

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