A new study published by the American Journal of Infection Control found that 93% of tested laundered towels used to clean hospital rooms contained bacteria that could result in healthcare-associated infections. Even though there are stringent disinfecting practices in place to combat HAIs, US alone reports an estimated 1.7 million cases.
Study results show that traditional hospital laundering practices are not sufficient to remove all viable bacteria from the laundered towels. Bacteria like E-coli, other coliforms and Klebsiella were found in 93% of laundered towels. About 67% of total number of soak buckets containing disinfectant contained viable bacteria, including spore-forming bacteria and coliform bacteria.
A second, separate companion study: ‘Decreased activity of commercially available disinfectants containing quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) when exposed to cotton towels’, found laundered cotton towels can reduce the strength of the hospital-grade disinfectants (QACs) by up to 85.3%. This is a very serious issue as unintentionally, hospitals are causing the spread of the bacteria instead of preventing it. The presence of bacteria on the towels and the inactivation of the cleaning agent may actually increase the risk for transmission of pathogens in hospitals.
Cleaning practises in hospitals are in an urgent need to be re-evaluated. A successful method of disinfection looks after the appropriate concentration of germicide, and a delivery method that allows the germicide to reach the surface. High absorbency of fibre cloths can retain bacteria for a longer duration so, as a best practice, hospitals should either use a sterilisation process to clean reusable cloth and microfibre towels or switch to disposables. This will decrease the probability of bacteria transfers on contact surfaces.