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Are we really at Risk from Hospital Superbugs?

Are antibiotic resistant infections at risk of taking over hospitals?

Something of a buzz word in the media, where sensationalized stories tell us we’re all at huge risk of serious illness, superbugs do pose a threat to us all, but how serious are they? Superbug has become the definitive word for viral infections which are caused by bacteria resistant to the most common antibiotics. In some instances, such as the case of a woman who died in Nevada , superbug strains have been found to be resistant to all-known antibiotics available in the US.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report superbugs infect over 2 million people every year and over 23,000 are killed by infections of this nature. This alone is worrying and becomes even more of a concern when the World Health Organization’s research suggests that some of the most dangerous diseases such as TB and HIV are becoming multi-drug resistant, making treating these globally damaging conditions even harder.

Precautions against superbugs require sophisticated research and the development of stronger and more effective antibiotics. However, on the ground level, there is a huge amount individuals can do in hospitals and care environments. Hospital cleaning, individual cleanliness and best practices in relation to hygiene in medical environments can be instrumental in limiting the spread of the superbug.

Examining and Recognizing Common Superbugs

There are a growing number of superbug infections and diseases. As the bugs themselves become more sophisticated and adapt to counteract their treatment, this is when they become even more of an issue. Some of the most common and well-known superbugs are looked at in more depth below:

Multidrug-Resistant Acinetobacter

Also known as Acinetobacter baumannii this highly resistant bacteria is found in soil and water and also on human skin. This makes it very quick to spread once it has infected a single person. It is one of the most common hospital superbugs and it quickly develops a resistant to the most frequently used antibiotics which helps in its spread.

MRSA

MRSA is probably the best-known superbug. Medically known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureu this bug is a highly resistant form of the more common staph infection. Due to the widespread nature of this particular infection it has become easier to treat although some strains are still highly antibiotic-resistant. Life-threatening MRSA is not the problem it was a few years ago.

Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae

Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) is a naturally occurring family of bacteria found in the human stomach. Despite their natural occurrence they can become extremely dangerous and even life threatening, causing fatal blood infections. The most notable point to remember about CRE is that it is resistant to all-known antibiotics so extremely difficult to treat.

Clostridium Difficile

Clostridium Difficile (C.diff) is a bacteria found naturally in the human intestine. Unfortunately, it can overgrow and develop and this leads to severe and sometimes painful diarrhoea. It is commonly passed through spores which are found in bathrooms and on clothes. It can sometimes be treated with antibiotics but like most superbugs, it can become resistant to antibiotics very quickly too. It is another example of a superbug which can be fatal if left untreated.

Neisseria Gonorrhoea

Neisseria gonorrhoea is a dangerous strange of the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhoea. It is an example of a disease which was once easily treated with antibiotics, but it has evolved and changed, becoming much more resistant to them.

Many of the superbugs which spread in medical environments are air or waterborne. This means that particular focus should be paid to hygiene in specific areas including HVAC systems, air ducts and restrooms and bathrooms.

HVAC Cleaning and Managing Superbugs

Not all superbugs are airborne, but a proactive approach to keeping HVAC systems and air ducts thoroughly cleaned can be vital in an all-round approach to keeping their risk to a minimum. Air duct and vent cleaning is essential for all medical environments, especially when you consider the vulnerability of most people in hospitals and similar places.

Patients immune systems are almost always compromised, making them most at risk of catching a superbug virus or similar infection. HVAC ventilation systems are standard in most hospitals but for them to work effectively they must be regularly maintained and cleaned. Properly cleaned filters and ducts will capture infectious particles, bacteria and even spores, limiting the risk of them spreading and superbugs becoming an epidemic in any single hospital or area.

It is also important to consider the temperature requirements for bacteria to grow. Hospital wards are known for being warmer than usual and this can in itself be a breeding ground for bacteria. This makes it even more important that air quality is managed and fresh, clean, purified air is provided as much as possible with properly cleaned vents and systems in place. Properly maintained air ducts and vents can limit the spread of waterborne diseases are well as airborne.

Best Practice in Cleanliness for Limiting Outbreaks

Hospital cleaning cannot be an afterthought. From the most basic hygiene protocol to dealing with dangerous and hazardous waste, expert and professional cleaners are essential for a safe hospital environment. Specialist cleaning teams will be experienced in ensuring that the premises and service providers themselves are doing all they can to limit the spread of infections of any kind, including some of the most serious superbugs.

Working with an experienced cleaning team ensures hospitals can benefit from specialized experience and knowledge. Companies know exactly how to effectively deliver the highest levels of cleanliness, with the experience to deal with hazardous and dangerous materials and chemicals, as well as ward-level cleaning.

Working with professionals allows hospital management to rely on experts in their field and plan a cleaning rota which is suitable and designed to keep any infection risk to an absolute minimum. Professional cleaning services set the best practices and work in line with local, national and international protocol for effectively managing infection and bacterial risk in medical environments. Proper management of cleaning rotas and reactive response when there is a known infection risk is key to keeping any outbreak under control.

A Note on the Individual’s Role

Hand hygiene is a key player in managing infection risk and bacterial spread in hospitals. Doctors and nurses are well-versed on the protocol but research carried out at the University of Michigan highlighted how patient hygiene may also need to be a considered more seriously.

The research found that 14% of 399 patients tested had antibiotic-resistant bacteria on their hands and/or nostrils early in their hospital stay. A further 6% were found to have multidrug-resistant organisms on their hands by the end of their stay, even if they hadn’t been present at the beginning. While there is only so much anyone can do about reminding patients about health protocol and cleanliness, but the current approach which puts medical professions at the heart of the hand hygiene narrative, needs to be expanded to include patients. This is essential to truly eradicate the spread of superbugs.

Hospital Example

Routine Hospital Cleaning limits Risks on a Daily Basis

Thorough hospital cleaning practices are instrumental in limiting the spread of bacteria and infection. Experienced cleaners will have a set number of tasks per day which are essential, as well as more in depth and intense tasks carried out on a less regular basis. Duties such as bathroom and toilet sanitization are essential on a daily if not more frequent basis and similarly the deep cleaning of theaters and specialist medical areas is also a daily task so they can be safely used and operational 24 hours a day.

Although all theaters are not used 24 hours a day, hospitals in general need to be operational for all hours. As they are naturally places people go when ill or injured, the need for reactive and emergency cleaning is high too, which further highlights the need for professionals on-hand to offer quick and effective cleaning as soon as it is required.

In the case of more serious events, such as the need for decontamination and specialized cleaning, hospital management can expect their cleaning team to be experienced in this area, both those working on a daily basis and those called in for specialised jobs. Hospital cleaning can be a high-risk business, and this is why specialized teams are experienced and knowledgeable about the environment they are working in. Infection management and avoiding risks due to the spread of bacteria and germs are high on the agenda to ensure the risk of contamination and the spread of outbreaks is kept to an absolute minimum.

How Worried Should we be about Hospital Superbugs?

It is very easy to get scared and even be wary of visiting hospitals due to the idea of superbugs being prevalent and spreading amongst the wards. While wariness is understandable, superbugs are a well-known issue which hospitals have protocols to effectively manage. Patients and visitors can tell from any hospital visit whether the general level of cleanliness and hygiene control is in line with expectations, and many hospitals have been inspected to further ensure they are meeting the required levels to pass as clean and safe for patients.

As a patient in hospital the best anyone can do is manage their own cleanliness, keeping in mind how easy it is for bacteria to spread from hands and in frequently used areas such as restrooms and public areas. There is no need for panic and concern whenever a hospital visit is necessary, as long as you are aware of your surroundings. What’s more, hospital management and staff are more aware than anyone of the need to prevent the spread of bacteria and actively work to offer clean, hygienic environments for all.

Further Reading

https://www.statnews.com/2017/01/12/nevada-woman-superbug-resistant/ https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/ https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/antimicrobial-resistance https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190414111500.htm

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