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The role of laundry protocols in infection control

por John W. Mitchell, Senior Correspondent | June 25, 2015
Infection Control
In an era of Ebola outbreaks and antibiotic-resistant superbugs, research just published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology offers a reminder that attention to detail is crucial to preventing the spread of infectious disease. The study looks at the role of dirty laundry, which has only been credited with about a dozen infections over the last 40 years, but some involving multiple patients.

“We did not see evidence of patient-to patient transmission of infection via the laundry processes, and chemicals used in the U.S. successfully remove contamination,” Dr. Lynne Sehulster, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and lead study author, told DOTmed News. “But clusters of infections reported in the medical literature were associated with inadvertent contamination of the textiles with environmental pathogens.”

She said analyses of the previous cases identified several contamination sources from reusable health care textiles, such as bed linens and towels. These included: inadvertent exposure to contaminants such as dust in storage areas, poor water quality, breakdown of laundering equipment or other failure during the laundering process. The study did not look at textiles contaminated during use.

Melisa Bower, a Public Affairs Specialist with CDC stressed that in the instances where infections were transmitted, the patients were already at risk.

“These aren’t infections you or I would get,” Brower told DOTmed News. “Such patients had seriously compromised immune systems.” Sehulster noted that these patients were susceptible due to such factors as age, underlying medical conditions or presence in the intensive care unit.

Sehulster said she conducted the study because there was no peer-reviewed medical literature to prescribe best practices, and the information needed to be available in a more easily accessible format for health care professionals. She said the evaluation may help entities such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and The Joint Commission keep their standards up to date.

“The health care laundry industry is keenly aware of the importance of infection prevention. Facility and process inspections help these businesses implement a quality control program to ensure the production of hygienically-clean health care textiles,” said Sehulster.

Other important factors in the study included: being mindful of temperature, relative humidity and moisture in storage areas; using standard precautions, such as gowns and gloves, when handling contaminated laundry in isolation rooms; and being alert to variations in protocols during the laundering process.

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