Hospitals target balloons, flowers as potential infection threat

Hospitals, increasingly concerned about infection risk, are stepping up their scrutiny of potential risks, and the dragnet is ensnaring common bedside features such as balloons and flowers, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Prohibition on flowers has been common in intensive care units for a while, according to the article, but in recent years many hospitals have made similar rules for ICU step-down units, pediatrics, labor and delivery units, and cardiac-care units. But despite the increased vigilance, experts say there's little proof such measures actually reduce infection risk.

"This is one of the issues where there's a paucity of evidence, and when that happens in infection control, one of our goals is always to keep the patient safe," Susan Dolan, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, told the WSJ. "It's not cut-and-dried, if you'll pardon the pun, which is why you see a spectrum of what hospitals will and won't allow."

The specificity of the rules runs the gamut as well, according to the article. New York University Langone Medical Center has a blanket ban on balloons. Meanwhile New York-Presbyterian Hospital bars latex and Mylar balloons along with both real and artificial flowers from nurseries, transplant and labor/delivery areas, as well as treatment areas for transplant and cancer patients. A spokesperson told the newspaper this rule derives from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. Nearby Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, however, allows flowers at inpatient bedsides while barring them from ICUs, transplant units and operating rooms.

Many such hospital restrictions are the result of a "better safe than sorry" mentality, according to the article; the CDC guidelines cited by New York Presbyterian point to a 1974 case in which a plant pathogen was suspected, but never confirmed, to have caused a septicemia death in a delivery room. Flowers, the CDC says, can often spread Aspergillus, a form of mold that can threaten immunocompromised patients, but they pose little risk to healthier patients. Similarly, experts have urged hospitals to ban perfume for its potential to exacerbate asthma symptoms, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the WSJ article

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