People, in a medical situation, generally look for hospitals that are nearest to their homes, reputed and with good facilities. But one question that definitely should come up but rarely does is: Who was in this room before me? Of course, it isn’t really the “who” that’s important; what matters is actually what illness that person was admitted to the hospital with… or contracted in the hospital.
Why is this information so crucial? According to a research team headed by Dr John Boyce of the Yale University School of Medicine, if the patient previously occupying a hospital room had a highly infectious disease such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or Norovirus, there is “an increased risk of the next patient admitted to that same room contracting the multi-drug resistant organisms” associated with these diseases.
Complicating matters, the study also found that some pathogens and contaminants could stay alive far longer than was previously believed possible. In some cases, pathogens were still found several weeks after an infected person vacated a room. Boyce and his team offer two key suggestions to help stop the spread of infectious diseases in hospital settings. At the top of their list is proper hand washing by all medical staff. However, this was followed very closely with more effective and hygienic cleaning.
In fact, the study reported, “There is increasing evidence that contaminated surfaces in hospitals… are a source of transmission of pathogens…and reducing environmental contamination by improved cleaning and disinfecting practices should reduce the acquisition of pathogens by patients and result in fewer infections.” The researchers offered the following simple yet practical suggestions to improve cleaning and disinfecting of hospital rooms:
- Visual inspections should be conducted in patient rooms after they are vacated and cleaned and before a new patient is admitted.
- High-touch areas such as door knobs, light switches, etc., should be marked with a florescent marker to check that they are being cleaned.
- Surfaces should be verified as hygienically clean through the use of petri dish studies or adenosine triphosphate (ATP) systems that can assess contamination levels on surfaces. The presence of ATP bioluminescence on surfaces may indicate that potentially harmful contaminants are present. ATP rapid monitoring systems are commonly used in laboratories, grocery stores, and now by the professional cleaning industry to help ensure that surfaces are clean and contaminant free.
The researchers admitted that visually inspecting a hospital room for cleanliness has obvious limitations and marking high-touch areas with florescent markers may sound a bit juvenile. Nevertheless, these suggestions were made for a very serious reason: to get everyone, especially custodial workers, focused on the importance of cleaning as it regards stopping the spread of infectious diseases.
A closer look at cleaning strategies
Boyce’s study went further, suggesting that an entirely different type of cleaning practice, method, or system might be called for in order to help stop the spread of disease. In fact, according to his research, “Inadequate cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces is usually (the) result of suboptimal cleaning practices. In many facilities, only about 50% of the surfaces in patient rooms that should be cleaned are cleaned by housekeepers.” Once again, the researchers offered some practical suggestions for addressing the issue, including the use of hydrogen peroxide “misting” systems or vapour cleaning technology. Hydrogen peroxide misting systems release small amounts of hydrogen peroxide throughout a hospital or medical facility room to help kill contaminants. Vapour cleaning systems use high temperature water vapour and pressure to clean and sanitize surfaces.
However, they also acknowledged that these systems do not always eliminate certain types of pathogens and that further investigation into cleaning systems and technologies “is warranted.”
One alternative cleaning technology that shows potential in addressing this problem – and which is already being used successfully in some medical facilities – is the use of “spray-and-vac” cleaning systems. This technology may prove especially effective in hospital settings because it helps to ensure that pathogens are actually removed from surfaces, a key concern.
Some studies indicate that more conventional cleaning methods – including the use of cleaning cloths, mops, and buckets – may actually spread contaminants from one location to another rather than removing them. According to Dr Jay Glasel, founder of Global Scientific Consulting in Farmington, CT, spray-and-vac systems can be as much as “60 times more effective at reducing bacterial contamination when compared to conventional cleaning methods”.
Although it also touches on the importance of proper hand washing, the bulk of Boyce’s report focuses on one thing: the need for effective, proper, hygienic cleaning. As Boyce makes clear, the role that cleaning plays in keeping people healthy must be stressed to cleaning professionals in medical locations as well as other facilities. Stated as simply as possible: effective, hygienic cleaning helps protect human health.John Richter,Technical Director, Kaivac, Inc.