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Review wipe policies with infection control


August 1, 2008

A new British study suggests that antibacterial wipes can actually spread "superbug" bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and not kill them.

Worse, healthcare workers may be consolidating piles of bacteria on frequented contacted surfaces (e.g., bed rails and touch-screen monitors).

In light of this information, safety managers who develop employee-health policies in cooperation with infection control staff might want to meet with the infection control practitioner to review practices at their facilities.
Study tests wipes’ performance
The main finding of the study, presented by Cardiff (Wales) University researchers at the American Society of Microbiology’s annual meeting in June in Boston, was that when employees use wipes several times on multiple surfaces before discarding, it leaves bacteria such as MRSA behind.

Researchers studied commercially available antimicrobial wipes in a laboratory setting after observing practices of nurses and other staffers in ICUs at several facilities. They replicated the habits of employees and then analyzed their effectiveness in wiping out bacteria.

In the lab, even the wipes that said “Kills MRSA” on the package weren’t 100% effective in doing so, according to the study. Instead, they were effective at removing bacteria from a surface and killing some of it. When a wipe was re-used on another surface, it deposited live bacteria back into the environment.

“On the whole, wipes can be effective in removing, killing, and preventing the transfer of pathogens such as MRSA, but only if used in the right way,” researcher Gareth Williams, microbiologist at the Welsh School of Pharmacy, said in a press release. “We found that the most effective way [to] prevent the risk of MRSA spread in hospital wards is to ensure the wipe is used only once on one surface.”

Use it once, then toss it
The Welsh team recommended that hospitals adopt a wipe policy that can be distilled down to the phrase “one wipe, one application per surface” to help prevent the spread of MRSA as well as other bugs. This approach may also cut rates of hospital-acquired infections among patients and staff members.

Employee training is the key, researchers said. Packaging that indicates a product kills MRSA might be true; a particular disinfectant might kill MRSA in a lab, for example. But without protocols in place to effectively wipe bacteria off of surfaces in a hospital setting, the wipes can actually do more harm than good, they said.

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