Last week's blog Cotton - it absorbs more than just water focused on how cotton cloths absorb Quats and therefore impact disinfection. It gets worse, SO MUCH worse. Gerba et al recently published a study in AJIC titled "Microbial contamination of hospital reusable cleaning towels". The focus was not on what was found on the cloth AFTER using, but what was found on the cloth AFTER laundering and therefore assumed CLEAN!!! Ten (10) hospitals participated in the study - 8 of which used cotton cloths, 2 of which used microfiber cloths. Of the 10 facilities, 9 used a Quat as their daily disinfectant. After last week's blog we know that's a potential infection prevention and control nightmare. After sampling the "CLEAN" cloths Gerba and his team found that 93% of the cleaning cloths contained viable microorganisms EVEN AFTER LAUNDERING!
The microorganisms that were found on the offending cloths included bacteria that play a significant role in HAIs such as Klebsiella spp, Pseudomonas spp and Serratia spp. The gross factor (at least to me) was the fact they found coliform bacteria on the cloths...for those who do not know, coliform bacteria are universally present in large numbers in the feces of warm-blooded animals (and humans). Basically there was POOP on the cloths!
The researchers did find that there was a significant difference in the contamination level found after laundering the cotton and microfiber cloths with microfibers showing the highest level of bacterial adhesion. Previously published data has supported the fact that bacteria adhere more strongly to microfiber cloths which can have the impact of spreading pathogens to different surfaces as the microfiber cloths are continually used. In the end, Gerba and his colleagues found that typical laundering practices are not sufficient to remove viable pathogens from cleaning cloths. What they could not determine was if the contamination was due to a breakdown in the laundering process or if the cloths get contaminated from storage and handling (I am going to hope it's the latter). The end result is that the Infection Preventionists and Environmental Services staff need to consider that cleaning cloths could be a potential reservoir for nosocomial pathogens.
I will admit, I have always questioned the laundering process at hotels and so I NEVER let the bed covers touch my face. I think perhaps now, with the knowledge that coliforms can be found on cleaning cloths after laundering I am going to have to rethink how I sort my laundry. Effective immediately, underwear are GOING TO BE LAUNDERED ON THEIR OWN....need I say more?