Editor's comment, October 2010
Lurking deep within the recesses of the HVAC systems in many healthcare facilities there may well be a hidden menace. No matter how pristine a hospital may appear on the surface, no matter how recently it may have undergone a deep clean, regardless of how many stringent hygiene protocols have been put in place, unless the air conditioning ducting has been subjected to the same scrutiny it may all be for nothing.
To date, most infection control measures have focused on preventing cross-contamination through direct or indirect contact, with hand-washing protocols and surface cleaning measures the principal lines of defence. But there is a high probability that bacteria such as MRSA are being circulated throughout the facility via the air conditioning system.
MRSA thrives in a warm, relatively dry environment, and can withstand desiccation at temperatures from 18°C to 37°C, making the comfort zone of 21–24°C well within its survival range. Increasing air-tightness to improve energy efficiency is exacerbating the problem.
After years of negligence, hospitals’ indoor air quality is becoming increasingly infectious and hazardous in both old and flagship British hospitals, according to the research by Dr Ghasson Shabha, MRSA project Co-ordinator, School of Property, Construction and Planning (PCP), Birmingham City University. A radical rethink is most urgently needed to save life, he says.
This is definitely a case where out of sight should not mean out of mind.