• Fri, Sep 23 2011

Nothing Is Sanitary, Ever: Hospital Privacy Curtains Are Crawling With Bacteria

One more reason to wash your hands like soap is going out of style–and to ask than any and all doctors and nurses you come into contact with do the same: a study by researchers at the University of Iowa has found that the privacy curtains between patients in hospitals are veritable bacteria factories, carrying MRSA and other potentially lethal diseases.

Reuter’s reports that the study, which was conducted over a period of 3 weeks and looked at 180 separate swab samples taken from the University of Iowa Hospital’s medical and surgical wards, found that “significant contamination” occurred quickly, leaving even newer curtains covered in disease-causing bacteria. Overall, 41 out of 43 curtains that were tested were found to have been contaminated, and, of the new curtains put in place during the test, nearly all were contaminated within a week. These are not good odds.

Diseases found included MRSA (a form of staph which is mostly drug-resistant and is also very gross and awful), as well as the Enterococcus bacteria, which can cause infections of the urinary tract, as well as meningitis and infections of the heart. It is also resistant to antibiotics, and is very difficult to treat. 

Contamination in hospitals is to be expected–they are giant buildings full of sick people, bodily fluids, and airborne germs–but the curtains which separate patients from each other seem sort of innocuous among the many other items that could be carrying disease. Moreover, doctors and nurses frequently handle these curtains without gloves, making the spread of the bacteria even more likely. While other common surfaces may get disinfected (door knobs, faucets, etc.), curtains sort of blend in.

Disinfecting hospital curtains regularly could help cut down the growth of bacteria. But when a hospital is very full, patients may take exception at having their privacy curtains removed for a wash. Frequent and adequate hand-washing is the simplest solution to limiting the potential for spreading–so don’t be shy about requesting that your nurse or doctor handle the curtains with care, and wash up after doing so. When you’re in the hospital, you don’t need to be bringing anything but some non-skid socks home with you.

Image: AISPIX / Shutterstock

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