Though you dutifully wash your hands, your hand-hygiene efforts may be in vain if you touch privacy curtains before interacting with patients. In fact, within a week of being washed, 92% of the curtains are contaminated with potentially pathogenic bacteria, according to a report by University of Iowa Hospital.

The critical role that the physical hospital environment plays in the transmission of hospital pathogens is becoming increasingly apparent. The Iowa study, presented at the ICAAC conference in Chicago this month, detected the rapid contamination of hospital curtains.

Of the 13 privacy curtains freshly washed and hung for the study, 12 (92%) were contaminated within a week. Bacteria found included antibiotic-resistant organisms such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant enterococcus species (VRE). In addition:

MRSA was isolated from 21% of curtains.

VRE was isolated from 42% of curtains.

Overall, 119 of 180 (66%) cultures were positive for either S. aureus (26%), Enterococcus spp. (44%), or gram-negatives (22%).

Physician’s Weekly wants to know…

  • What interventions do you think can be put in place to reduce curtain contamination?
  • Are there any other objects in the physical environment that should be examined?