Thorough cleaning doesn't remove diarrhoea-causing bacteria from hospital bed sheets

 Linens could transmit Clostridium difficile infections.
Linens could transmit Clostridium difficile infections.

Even after a thorough cleaning, traces of diarrhoea-causing bacteria can remain on hospital bed sheets, researchers report.

The new study suggests that linens could transmit Clostridium difficile infections between patients, and even between hospitals, according to the British researchers.

Potentially life-threatening infection

"The findings of this study may explain some sporadic outbreaks of C. difficile infections in hospitals from unknown sources," said Katie Laird, the study's lead author. She heads infectious disease research at De Montfort University School of Pharmacy in Leicester, England.

"However," she added, "further research is required in order to establish the true burden of hospital bed sheets in such outbreaks."

C. difficile is a potentially life-threatening infection. In its mild form, it may cause watery diarrhoea. But in some cases it progresses to colon inflammation and kidney failure.

In their tests, the researchers washed C. difficile-contaminated cotton sheeting in a commercial washing machine with industrial detergent at high disinfecting temperatures. They still found traces of the bacteria afterward.

Tied to half-a-million infections

What's more, bacteria from the contaminated sheets were transferred to uncontaminated sheets during washing, the investigators found.

The study was published in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

"Future research will assess the parameters required to remove C. difficile spores from textiles during the laundry process," Laird said in a journal news release.

C. difficile infection occurs most often among older adults in hospitals or long-term care facilities who take antibiotics. The germ was tied to almost half-a-million infections in the United States in a single year, and 29 000 people died within 30 days of diagnosis, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Image credit: iStock

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