The fight against superbugs brings environmental risks into focus

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For the layperson, knowledge of infection prevention is often limited to hand hygiene and covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. With the danger of antibiotic resistant infections hitting mainstream media and scientists urging the need for a more educated society, another prevention tactic is coming into focus, particularly for the general public: addressing environmental risks to patient safety.

As researchers (or in Vancouver hospitals, dogs) put their noses to the ground in search of the source of HAIs, the presence of potentially deadly microbes has proven nearly ubiquitous throughout the healthcare environment. According to news reports and studies, these microbes have turned up as mold in ceiling panels, permeate as particulates in HVAC systems, hide out in sinks and faucets, and even linger inside toilet paper rolls. Another element of the patient environment where risks are being more fully understood are soft surfaces: bed linens, privacy curtains, gowns, and the like. Not only are these surfaces not being changed or cleaned as often as they should, but traditional disinfection methods appear to be losing their effectiveness.

Environmental risk assessment must continue to grow more exhaustive, and infection prevention efforts must grow in breadth and depth through the combination of emerging innovations such as UV disinfection robots or a sustainable solution added to the laundry cycle.