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Curtains revealed as source of drug-resistant bacteria transmission

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The contamination of privacy curtains with multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs) is a common problem and could be a source of disease transmission to patients, warn US researchers.

They noted that patient privacy curtains, used in most healthcare facilities, were surfaces that were subjected to frequent touching but were only cleaned infrequently.

“We were surprised to see that MDROs shed by patients routinely contaminate their privacy curtains”

Study authors

The study, by the University of Michigan Medical Center, looked at the prevalence of curtain contamination with MDROs in skilled nursing facility (SNF) rooms.

In the US, SNFs care for both post-acute care patients with an average length of stay of 22 days, as well as long-term residents who may be in the facility for up to two years.

In the new study, the researchers looked at six SNFs, obtaining bacterial culture samples from several sites on each patient’s body, as well as from high-touch surfaces in the patient’s room.

Samples were taken upon admission, and again after 14 days, 30 days, then monthly up to six months where possible.

A total of 1,521 samples from 625 rooms were obtained from the edges of privacy curtains where they are touched most often.

The researchers were particularly interested in any links between bacteria found on patients, and MDRO contamination on their privacy curtain at the same visit.

They said they also wanted to discover whether this contamination occurred intermittently, or was persistent for those patients with six months of follow-up.

The study found that a total of 334 (22%) cultures taken from privacy curtains tested positive for MDROs, with contamination rates varying from 11.9% to 28.5% across the different facilities.

Of these cultures, 210 (13.8%) were contaminated with vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), 94 (6.2%) with resistant gram-negative bacilli (R-GNB) and 74 (4.9%) with MRSA.

The researchers found that in 15.7% of sampling visits, patients and their privacy curtain were concurrently colonised with the same MDRO.

However, they found no statistically significant difference in contamination rates between private and shared rooms.

The study authors said: “Patient colonisation with MRSA and VRE were each associated with contamination of the bedside curtain.”

In addition, of the 210 sampling visits which found VRE contamination on the curtain, 57.6% of patients were also contaminated with VRE.

“These pathogens on privacy curtains often survive and have the potential to transfer to other surfaces”

Study authors

Conversely, VRE was not detected on the curtain in 73.3% of sampling visits where VRE was not present on the patient.

Where six month follow-up data were available, the study found that curtain contamination was often intermittent.

The researchers said that their findings showed contamination of privacy curtains with MDROs was a common problem, and patients were frequently contaminated with the same MDRO as their curtain.

“We were surprised to see that MDROs, especially VRE, shed by patients routinely contaminate their privacy curtains,” they said.

“These pathogens on privacy curtains often survive and have the potential to transfer to other surfaces and patients,” they said. “As privacy curtains are used all over the world, it’s a global issue.”

They added: “Further studies are needed to determine conclusively whether contaminated privacy curtains are a source of MDRO transmission to patients.”

The findings were presented at this year’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, which is on during 13-16 April.

  • See attached PDFs below for study abstract and poster
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