Healthcare News & Insights

Hospital plumbing may contain superbugs: Keeping patients safe from infections

Hospital-acquired infections should be a major concern for your facility, but there may be additional culprits you’re not addressing. A new study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) revealed large amounts of antibiotic-resistant organisms in hospital plumbing. 

While commonly touched surfaces are often the focus of efforts to reduce infection rates, pipes and plumbing are common breeding grounds for superbugs, which create significant problems for infection control in your hospital.

The NIH study found that samples taken from hospital pipes and sewers contained bacteria resistant to carbapenems, which are last-resort antibiotics given to patients with drug-resistant infections.

Because hospitals use such strong antibiotics, their sewers can become overrun with these types of bacteria.

Patients may not be spending time in your facility’s plumbing systems, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay vigilant, making sure staff are mindful of what they’re disposing of in sink drains and whether there are patients present.

Some good news: The study also looked at samples from high-touch areas like door knobs and computers and found carbapenem-resistant bacteria were less common in those areas than in the sewers.

Common infection sources

It’s pretty much impossible to 100% sterilize a hospital, especially its plumbing system. But paying attention to major problem areas and risk factors can get your facility pretty close. According to NBC News, common sources of the bacteria that cause infections are:

  • drains
  • housekeeping storage closets
  • wastewater, and
  • dirty mops.

Making sure patients don’t come in contact with these germ sources can help prevent the spread of disease and infection within your organization.

Another, more unorthodox approach? Having dogs sniff out the superbugs in your hospital.

But there are other traditional ways to ensure your hospital is reducing infection risks. For example, proper hand hygiene is essential at any medical facility, and you should be holding staff accountable for washing their hands regularly. Periodically, train your staff members on how to thoroughly wash their hands and why it’s so important to keep hand hygiene top of mind.

In addition to hand-washing, using better cleaning techniques is another strategy to cut down on infections and keep patients safe. Use bleach-based cleaners over ones with chlorine dioxide, since bleach is more effective at killing superbugs, and check out product warnings and reviews to make sure you’re using the best cleaning tools to eliminate germs.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause infections that kill 23,000 people every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so the importance of infection control can’t be overstated for your hospital.

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