Hospitals, care homes and doctors’ surgeries are under increasing pressure to reduce the risk of bacterial infections and cross-contamination. Mike Massey, R&D Director at EnviroVent, the sustainable ventilation manufacturer, explains how using technology and traditional techniques is the most effective solution to this major problem.
Over the past few years, cleanliness and hygiene has become a major public issue for hospitals and care home professionals, fuelled by media reports of soaring MRSA contamination and other bacterial scares. This has led to the development of a number of products which are “scientifically proven to have high success rates in destroying dangerous bacteria and viruses such as MRSA and SARS”.
The key to controlling bacterial cross-contamination is a combination of innovative new technology, such as silver ion-technology, and good cleaning practices.
An important technological development for the control of healthcare-associated infections is the use of silver ion-technology. Silver antimicrobial technology is safe, natural and sustainable and has been used for centuries for its abilities to aid preservation. The ancient Greeks used silver vessels to keep their water fresh, whilst the Emperors of Imperial China ate with silver chopsticks. Silver was also widely used in hospitals to combat bacteria before the introduction of antibiotics. Today it is found in a wide range of products from wound dressing to hospital bedding and theatre cladding.
Silver ion is bioactive, making it effective against a comprehensive range of microorganisms with its lack of toxicity to non-target cells. The latest advancements in antimicrobial technology now allow silver to be added to everyday products at the manufacturing stage without effecting the performance or aesthetics in any way, other than imparting antimicrobial qualities. The growth of bacteria and mould can affect the functioning of products, leading to degradation, odours, stains and spoilage.
This has led to the availability of everyday products such as door handles, bins, window blinds and ventilation to incorporate this technology, making them cleaner, safer and more hygienic for environments where hygiene is important in order to combat Healthcare-Associated Infections (HCAI).
Every surface in a hospital is a potential breeding ground for bacteria, so all products which incorporate silver antimicrobial technology can be useful in lowering the numbers of bacteria. And, whilst antimicrobial technology is not the whole solution, it can go a long way towards lowering the risk of cross contamination. These claims are backed up by a recent study conducted at the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, which examined the efficacy of products with BioCote’s® silver ion technology in a real-life hospital environment.
The study involved two outpatient units, one of which had been refurbished using BioCote®-treated products such as door handles and blinds, and the other refurbished without treated products. The two units functioned normally and were subjected to standard cleaning practice for twelve months, before swabs were collected from both units over a five month period. The results showed an average bacterial reduction of 95.8 per cent in the unit using the products that incorporated the silver antimicrobial technology - proof that using silver antimicrobial technology provides a continuous decontamination effect.
In addition to this, it is now becoming increasingly recognised that ventilation performance and efficiency greatly depends on the cleanliness of the system. Dirty, contaminated ventilation units and ductwork is a major source of indoor air pollution and over time contaminants build up inside unprotected ductwork, creating an ideal breeding ground for mould, bacteria, fungi and other microbes. These are a major source of indoor air pollution with dirty ventilation systems contributing to 50% of the cases of “Sick Building Syndrome.” After all, no matter how high the standard of cleaning practices, if the site has a contaminated ventilation system, polluted air will continue to circulate and bacterial cross-contamination will continue to occur. Systems which incorporate silver ion technology, such as the BioVent® Range of ventilation products, provide a cleaner, safer and more hygienic environment.
However, it is important to note that technology is not the sole solution to bacterial cross contamination. Simple measures such as ensuring staff wash their hands before and after physical contact with patients are basic common sense, but in fact these easily-observed recommendations can have the biggest impact.
From our own research into infection control in healthcare environments, we know that there is never any single solution to the issue of cross contamination. As recent studies show, silver antimicrobial technology is certainly helping to give healthcare staff a head start in the fight against infectious diseases, in some cases reducing bacteria counts by up to 98 per cent. However, the usefulness of most of these products is dependent on the cleanliness of the surrounding environment. This means that traditional infection control measures such as good cleaning practices and personal protective equipment are just as important as silver ion technology.
Overall, the message is simple – keep hospitals and indoor air clean, and make use of the available antimicrobial technology as much as possible.