Do you ever sit back and wonder how the human race has managed to survive and evolve? I’ll admit, there are days that I do. When we first launched the Talk Clean to Me blog back in 2011, I wrote a blog titled “To Clean or Not to Clean…” that opened with examples of self-cleaning products. I’m embarrassed to say I now own a self-cleaning kitty litter, but happy to say after 5 years, my self-cleaning pool vacuum (aka my husband James) is still working fine! The focus of the self-cleaning blog was the fact that cleaning is important. Cleaning is necessary as it removes dirt that can harbour pathogens. It can save lives and while we can develop self-cleaning devices, we cannot get away from having to physically remove the dirt ourselves.
In October I wrote a blog “The quest for the silver bullet” which again talked about our obsession with developing surfaces that will kill pathogens. As I concluded in that blog, it’s not that I’m against innovation, but what I am against is the use of Silver Bullets like doorknobs, handrails, or what have you made out of antimicrobial agents when we have not addressed the fact that hand hygiene rates continue to be dismal or we continue to understaff housekeeping departments.
Hence the title of this week’s blog. I’m not sure if we’ve just become a society built on entitlement and laziness that think we’re too good to clean up after ourselves, or if we are simply naïve because of the constant bombardment of new technologies, or if we are just unaware of the potential dangers that come with blindly believing in the success of these self-cleaning surfaces.
A recent letter to the editor in ICHE talks to just this. Titled “Antimicrobial Curtains: Are They as Clean as You Think?”, this letter discusses an investigation to determine the degree of contamination of antimicrobial curtains that had been implemented at their facility. The long and the short is that 95% of the curtains they sampled showed bacterial growth and included both Gram-negative and Gram-positive organisms! While there are published studies that support the fact that there is a reduction of pathogens on pre-treated textiles, there are studies that show that these surfaces can and do become contaminated with pathogenic organisms. If we blindly believe that they only need to be changed when visibly soiled, we are forgetting the fact that we cannot see pathogens with our naked eye and could be ignoring a very real fomite that could be the reservoir for contaminating the hands of healthcare workers. Can they help to reduce the load? Yes. Should we wait until they look dirty to us to change? Probably not. If we’re truly looking to protect our patients we probably should change the curtains upon terminal cleaning regardless of how clean they look!