Privacy curtains in hospitals can become breeding grounds for resistant bacteria, posing a threat to patient safety, according to a small study from Canada.
Researchers tracked the contamination rate of 10 freshly laundered privacy curtains at the regional burns and plastics unit in the city of Winnipeg.
“Privacy curtains pose a high risk for cross-contamination because they are frequently touched but infrequently changed”
Four curtains were placed in a four-bed room, four were placed in two double rooms, and two controls were placed in areas without direct patient or caregiver contact.
Researchers took samples from areas where people hold curtains, suggesting that the increasing contamination resulted from direct contact.
While the curtains had minimal contamination when they were first hung, the curtains that were hung in patient rooms became “increasingly contaminated over time”, said the researchers.
By day three, test curtains showed increased microbial contamination – with mean colony-forming units [CFU]/cm2 of 1.17 – compared to control curtains – with mean CFU/cm2 of 0.19.
“Maintaining a schedule of regular cleaning offers another potential way to protect patients”
Significantly, by day 14 of the study, 87.5% of the test curtains tested positive for MRSA. In contrast, control curtains that were not placed in patient rooms stayed clean the entire 21 days.
Meanwhile, by day 21, the study authors noted that almost all curtains in the patient rooms exceeded 2.5 CFU/ cm2, the requirement for food processing equipment cleanliness in the UK.
Lead study author Dr Kevin Shek said: “We know that privacy curtains pose a high risk for cross-contamination because they are frequently touched but infrequently changed.
“The high rate of contamination that we saw by the fourteenth day may represent an opportune time to intervene, either by cleaning or replacing the curtains,” he said.
The study authors acknowledge the small sample size of this pilot study and recommend additional research to understand the clinical consequences of contaminated curtains.
The findings are published in the American Journal of Infection Control, the journal of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.
Association president and nurse Janet Haas said: “Keeping the patient’s environment clean is a critical component in preventing healthcare-associated infections.
“Because privacy curtains could be a mode of disease transmission, maintaining a schedule of regular cleaning offers another potential way to protect patients from harm while they are in our care,” she added.