Seattle-based researchers are airing out the dirty laundry that is leading to many getting sick while in the hospital.
A study has determined that dirty laundry and linens are significant sources of surface Clostridium difficile contamination, which is the most common cause of hospital-acquired diarrhea.
“This research supports the idea that its possible for the soiled hospital linens to contaminate the environment with C. difficile, which is the number one cause of hospital associated diarrhea,” study author and professor in the University of Washington’s School of Public Health Marilyn Roberts, Ph.D., said in a statement.
“It’s also extremely hard to remove from the environment. Due to this contamination, laundry facilities should be considered an extension of the healthcare environment when considering infection prevention and occupational health.”
Clostridium difficile is a hospital and community-acquired pathogen where spore-forming anaerobic bacteria form. It is estimated that the toxin-producing bacteria is identified in 2-to-3 percent of healthy, non-hospitalized adults and in 10-to-25 percent of hospitalized adults.
It is also estimated that 25 percent of all C. difficile infections occur from exposures in the community that stem from potential sources including water, soil, livestock, meats, vegetables and pets. There is also evidence that the infections are seasonal and are correlated with 151 respiratory illnesses in the winter, due to antibiotic use.
The study took samples at a laundry facility in Seattle that processes linens from six local hospitals, 30 outpatient clinics and the Washington National Primate Research Center.
Researchers took 240 surface samples from dirty areas including the receiving area, the primary sort area, the secondary sort area and the customer-owned goods area. About 23 percent of samples in areas where dirty linens were handled tested positive, while 2 percent of the samples from areas where only clean laundry was handled tested positive.
The study was published in FEMS Microbiology Letters.