Study on poor use of wipes in hospitals hits headlines

The study revealed that under current protocols hospital staff are likely to spread pathogens not kill them

A recent study1 into the ability of antimicrobial-surface wipes to remove, kill and prevent the spread of such infections as MRSA has revealed that current practices employed by hospital staff have the potential to spread pathogens because of how the wipes are used and their ineffectiveness to actually kill bacteria.

Antimicrobial containing wipes are increasingly being employed to disinfect surfaces in hospitals and were introduced in hospitals in Wales in 2005.

The study led by microbiologist Dr Jean-Yves Maillard, from the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Cardiff University, UK involved a surveillance programme observing hospital staff using surface wipes to decontaminate surfaces near patients, such as bed rails and other surfaces commonly touched by staff and patients, such as monitors, tables and key pads, which were later replicated in the lab.

A three-step system was also developed to test the ability of several commercially available wipes to disinfect surfaces contaminated with strains Staphylococcus aureus, including MRSA and MSSA. The system tested the removal of pathogens, the transmission of them, and the antimicrobial properties of wipes.

It was found that the wipes were being applied to the same surface several times and used on consecutive surfaces before being discarded. It also revealed that although some wipes can remove higher numbers of bacteria from surfaces than others, the wipes tested were unable to kill the bacteria removed. As a result, high numbers of bacteria were transferred to other surfaces when wipes were reused.

The authors believe wipes do have a role to play in preventing the transfer of pathogens such as MRSA, but only if used in the right way. The team is calling for a ‘one wipe – one application – per surface’ approach to infection control in healthcare environments.

The research, supported by a grant from the Wales Office of Research and Development for Health and Social Care, has also led to questions about the claims of effectiveness of antimicrobial-containing wipes, particularly when methods used to test the performance of these products do not assess the in-use ability of wipes to actually disinfect surfaces.

It is anticipated that the research will promote a UK and worldwide routine surveillance programme examining the effectiveness of disinfectants used in hospitals.

1. Ramm L, Siani H, Wesgate R, Maillard JY, American Journal of Infection Control 10.1016/j.ajic.2015.03.024