Superbug danger in the ICU: Staff scrubs, hospital room furniture


The threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria continues to grow. A new study finds that superbugs may be spread from staff members’ scrubs.

The research, which was presented at ID Week 2016 this week, tracked the transmission of drug-resistant bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Researchers found that the bacteria readily spread from intensive care unit patients to nurses’ scrubs and the room around them, according to an announcement of the findings.

The study found that the sleeves and pockets of the scrubs and the bed railings were most vulnerable to contamination. 

"We know there are bad germs in hospitals but we're just beginning to understand how they are spread," Deverick J. Anderson, M.D., lead author of the study and associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Duke University Medical Center, said in the announcement. "This study shows we need to be 100 percent diligent about infection control strategies."

The study followed 167 patients in the ICU who received care from 40 different nurses over the course of three 12-hour shifts. Each nurse cared for at least two patients, and wore new scrubs each shift. The scrubs, patients and patient rooms were swabbed for test cultures, and a total of 22 transmission were found, six of which were from patient to nurse; six from room to nurse and 10 from patient to room.

The researchers found bacteria in the rooms no matter when cultures were collected, though rooms were cleaned daily. They said this suggests that more can be done to decontaminate patient rooms.

Another area of concern: studies have suggested that scrubs worn outside the hospital may also be an infection risk, FierceHealthcare has previously reported. The data on the issue is unclear, but most professional health organizations recommend that workers avoid wearing scrubs outside the hospital.

To prevent spread of superbugs in the ICU, researchers encourage staff to wash their hands after all patient encounters, wear disposable gloves and gowns when caring for patients, and insist on meticulous and regular cleaning of patient rooms.