The Surface Life of Germs & What to Do About It
Look around your unit, the patient lounge, the clinic office or the activity gym. You probably see many different types of equipment and devices that could become contaminated with disease causing pathogens. These items are referred to as fomites and they can serve as a means to transmit germs to you and your patients.
A paper by Kramer in Clinical Microbiology Review noted that some organisms can persist in the environment for days; e.g. VRE can last 5 days, Acinetobacter for 3 days and C. difficile spores can last for months. And since we are heading into cold and flu season, don't forget that the CDC says flu viruses can last up to 8 hours on surfaces. Of course, how long these organisms survive depends on several factors including the type of material - metal, porous, fabric - and the temperature and humidity.
There are several germicidal wipes on the market that are effective in eliminating most of these organisms. It's important to read the labels on these products to know what germs they kill and how long of a contact time is needed. While these products are useful for many types of patient care equipment, there are some items that present special challenges.
Three items come to mind:
Reusable blood pressure cuffs -which by the nature of the material are hard to clean. How are you handling these at your facility - changing to disposables, using paper sleeves?
The second items are books and toys- some of these are impossible to clean. Additionally, we have to be careful what chemical is used on an item that may go into a child's mouth - what's your practice with these items?
And finally, the explosion of electronic gadgets used for teaching or diversion is creating more cleaning challenges. Some clinics are lending iPads to the patients for use in the waiting rooms. Wonder how we'll keep them clean without damaging the screen.