Nurses: What Germs are you Taking Home with You?
Many nurses launder their scrubs at home due to personal preference or lack of access to hospital laundries, but home washing machines do not fully eradicate dangerous hospital-acquired bacteria, according to a November 2011 study in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.
British researchers studied the effectiveness of home laundry facilities to kill hospital-acquired bacteria. The National Health Service in Britain is working to reduce and eliminate in-house hospital laundry services for their staff, and the researchers wanted to investigate the risk of staff bringing harmful hospital bacteria home on their scrubs and uniforms.
Researchers tested laundry washed in residential laundry machines. Typical residential laundry machines in Britain wash clothes at a temperature close to 40 degrees Celsius, or 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The researchers tested to see if this heat was adequate to destroy methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and Acinetobacter. Use of a washing machine at 40 degrees Celsius plus laundry detergent killed MRSA bacteria, but did not kill Acinetobacter. Laundry washed at 60 degrees Celsius, or 140 degrees Fahrenheit, with laundry soap was found to be free from both MRSA and Acinetobacter.
Researchers also tested the effectiveness of ironing fabric with a hot iron to kill and eliminate Acinetobacter and they found this to be an effective intervention.
Hospitals are rife with highly-dangerous bacteria. MRSA and Acinetobacter are two types of bacteria that are commonly identified as a source of hospital-acquired infections. Nurses and other health care professionals who work in hospitals and care for patients can acquire these bacteria on their skin and clothing. Handwashing and proper laundering are essential to prevent further spread of these risky bacteria into residential homes and the community.
Health care providers who live with family members who have compromised immune systems should take extra care to not bring hospital-acquired bacteria home with them. Causes of compromised immune systems include pregnancy, cancer and HIV. Small children and the elderly are also at increased risk of serious problems if they are exposed to harmful bacteria.
As hospitals look to cut costs and eliminate in-hospital laundry facilities, healthcare workers must be vigilant to not cross-contaminate their homes with risky bacteria. Healthcare workers should check the temperatures of the water used by residential washing machines to verify that their clothes will be properly cleaned and sanitized. Using a hot iron on scrubs may also work to kill harmful bacteria.
Researchers do not know if harmful bacteria colonize residential washing machines after healthcare professionals wash their clothes. Healthcare professionals who live with medically fragile family members must be aware of the potential risk to their loved ones if they launder contaminated scrubs at home.
Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America
Study: "Residential washers may not kill hospital-acquired bacteria"
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