Trips to the hospital can often be stressful. When dealing with an injury, illness, or procedure, the last thing on your mind is whether the hospital has been properly cleaned. Hospitals are often thought of as sterile, antiseptic environments – but that isn’t always the case. Even though hospitals take great care to disinfect many surfaces and equipment, there are a surprising number of areas that slip through the cracks.
Here are some of the major culprits:
6. Waiting Rooms
A hospital’s waiting room is of the most stressful places for patients and family alike. With a near continuous flow of people coming in and out, it‘s difficult to keep every surface clean. Potentially contagious patients and visitors share this space for extended periods of time, making it one of the more dangerous places in the healthcare setting.
Waiting rooms with fabric upholstery furniture are difficult to disinfect and can become a source of contamination. Clip boards, pens, reading materials and children’s toys are other frequently touched items that don’t get cleaned often.
5. The Bed
Hospital beds are a major culprit of harboring germs. Hospital bedding is thoroughly sterilized after each patient but it’s not often feasible to sterilize the entire mattress. According to a study published in Antimicrobial Resistance & Infection Control:
“It is clear from the current research that hospital mattresses become significantly contaminated during use, even though they are covered with bed linens. These mattresses remain contaminated with bacteria, even after terminal cleaning with quaternary ammonia compound.”
Mattresses that have been physically damaged from overuse and harsh chemical disinfectants are more likely to harbor pathogens. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration received more than 700 reports associated with medical bed mattress covers failing to prevent blood and body fluids from leaking into the mattress from January 2011 to January 2016.
4. Privacy Curtains
Another forgotten area of the hospital room is the privacy curtain. Separation curtains provide much needed privacy for shared rooms but unfortunately they are one of the least frequently cleaned objects in a hospital room.
Typical protocol suggests changing curtains every 4-6 weeks but a 2013 study in American Journal of Infection Control found that 37% of hospitals changed them only when they were visibly soiled and a shocking 13% changed them only once a year.
One culture survey found that 42% of hospital privacy curtains were contaminated with vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), 22% with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and 4% with Clostridium difficile (C. diff). The study also found that these pathogens were easily transferred to hands.
“Without timely intervention, privacy curtains in hospitals can become breeding grounds for resistant bacteria, posing a threat to patient safety.” (Shek, et al. 2018)
Another study tracked the contamination rate of 10 freshly laundered privacy curtains. After day 14, most curtains (62.5%) tested positive for MRSA. By day 21, nearly all the curtains were contaminated, despite the fact that none of the rooms were occupied by patients with MRSA. The prevalence of MRSA and the number of colony forming units (CFUs) provide evidence that “curtains are a source of cross-contamination in hospitals.”
Despite the evidence that curtains quickly become contaminated – most facilities don’t switch out curtains as frequently as they ought.
3. Floors and Shoes
One of the most overlooked and under-cleaned areas of a hospital are it’s floors.
Healthcare workers typically change into their work shoes once they’re in the door and leave them when they go home. This is because shoes pick up and harbor pathogens that they don’t want to take home to their families.
Deshpande, et al. 2017 found that floors in patient rooms were frequently contaminated with health care-associated pathogens and demonstrated the potential for indirect transfer of pathogens to hands from objects placed on the floor.
In one study performed by Koganti et al. 2016, hospital room floors were inoculated with a nonpathogenic virus to see how it spread. They found that it “disseminated rapidly to the footwear and hands of patients and to high-touch surfaces in the room.” The virus was also found in adjacent rooms and at the nursing stations, suggesting that hospital staff contributed to the spread.
2. Door Handles & Elevator Buttons
Some of the most frequently touched surfaces in a hospital are also the hardest to keep clean.
Like the waiting room, door handles and elevator buttons are consistently used throughout the day. It’s impractical to wipe down buttons and handles after every use – which allows them to gather germs from every section of the hospital. Studies confirm that elevator buttons an overlooked source of bacterial colonization in hospitals.
One study found that lever handles like the one pictured above have the highest levels of bacterial contamination and push plate doors had the least. Pull handles had 5 times the contamination that push plate doors had.
1. Doctors’ Lab Coats
The white lab coat is a trusted symbol of professionalism. But how often do medical professionals wash their lab coats?
One small study of a New York Hospital found that, of the 62 respondents:
- 21% said they wore their coats for more than 14 days before washing
- 36% said they wore their coats for 7 to 14 days before washing them
- 28% said they went 3 to 7 days between washes
- 15% said they washed their coats every 3 days or fewer
Unwashed lab coats continue to pick up and transfer germs shift after shift, putting patients at risk. According to a 2018 survey by the Physicians Foundation, a doctor sees an estimated 20 patients a day. If a doctor washes their coat once every two weeks, they will see about 280 patients in the same coat.
As doctors go from room to room, their coats brush against patients and contaminated objects, like bed rails. Though doctors take care to wash their hands thoroughly before visiting with a patient, they can transfer germs when their coats come into contact with patients or surfaces.
If you are visiting a healthcare facility, it is vital to practice excellent hygiene by:
- Utilizing hand and shoe sanitizing stations when available
- Asking your healthcare team about infection prevention practices in the hospital
- Asking your team to wash their hands in front of you
UVZone Shoe Sanitizing Stations eliminate up to 99.999% of potentially dangerous germs on shoe soles, including the most common healthcare-acquired infections like MRSA, VRE, C. diff and C. auris.
Learn how UVZone can mitigate the germs coming into your facility.