By Rich Feczko, Director of Systems, Standards, Innovation & Global Support
Superbugs are an infamous villain in our fight against infections acquired during hospital stays. In healthcare settings, superbugs pose a unique threat to patients, staff, and anybody else who enters a hospital.
During the past 10-15 years, there's been an increase in this new threat to patient safety. According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year superbugs infect more than two million people and kill at least 23,000 people nationwide. However, ways to combat superbugs in hospitals exist, and employing these methods can improve patient safety in your hospital.
Superbugs in Hospitals: Superbug Definition and Prevention Approaches
What Is the Superbug?
There are many kinds of superbugs that can exist, even in a hospital.
Superbug definition: Superbugs are viral infections caused by bacteria that are resistant to common antibiotics.
Since the inception of antibiotics, the bacteria they treat have been adapting and changing in order to build up resistance. These superbugs are also known as multi-drug resistant organisms (MDRO).
In our quest to clean hundreds of hospitals every day, we work meticulously to prevent the spread of germs so superbugs do not threaten patients or healthcare workers. The most common superbugs working their way through US hospitals include Clostridium difficile, also known as C. diff, and MRSA, which stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
Of course, the biggest threat superbugs in hospitals pose is the risk of serious illness for already vulnerable patients. That is true of both C. diff and MRSA.
Most people that get a C. diff infection are getting medical care and taking antibiotics. While antibiotics may cure the bacteria making you sick, they can also knock out the healthy bacteria in your digestive tract. Then C. diff takes over.
MRSA most often infects people after surgery and can't be treated with penicillin. It can infect a wound and spread to surrounding tissues and your blood.
However, superbugs in hospitals also create another problem for healthcare organizations. In addition to causing human sickness, these infections cost hospitals a lot of money to treat. C diff is one of the five major healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) that cost US hospitals $9.8 billion annually.
Combating the Superbug
Combating the superbug requires a comprehensive approach. This starts with taking a close look at common actions patients and staff take each day.
High-touch surfaces in a patient's room – such as bed rails and toilet seats – may contribute to the spread of disease and potential infection by contaminating the hands, gloves, uniforms, gowns and equipment of healthcare workers. Several of these pathogens, including MRSA and C. diff, spores, can survive under certain conditions for four to five months or more.
To fend off the spread of superbugs, Crothall has developed a comprehensive infection prevention strategy. Our process for identifying the threat and treating it targets all surfaces in the patient's room and disinfecting with the proper solutions.
Here's a quick rundown of our approach to infection prevention and fighting superbugs:
We combat superbugs in hospitals using effective cleaning products, processes and advanced infection prevention technology.
The Right Cleaning Process
If hospitals undertake only basic cleaning processes, superbugs can thrive. In fact, numerous clinical studies indicate disinfection cleaning in hospitals is not as thorough as it should be. This is true for ambulatory surgical centers as well; "office grade clean" isn't good enough.
We go beyond basic cleaning to disinfect surfaces and interrupt the transmission of these microorganisms. All high-touch surfaces in patient rooms are cleaned and disinfected. High-touch surfaces include:
Light switches, sink faucets, restroom door handles; toilet and flusher; bed handrails, bedside tables, shower handle and rail; telephone; remote control/call button and overhead table.
The Right Products
Once common high-touch surfaces are identified, hospitals must make sure to use products that adequately address the threat posed by superbugs. We've developed a strategic relationship with several product manufacturers to identify the best product to fit each threat. On a daily basis, it means we use one-step, EPA-registered hospital disinfectants for cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces and CDC-recommended Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered disinfectants that kill C. diff spores.
Clorox Healthcare, for example is one of our strategic partners. Multiple studies have demonstrated that bleach disinfectants can reduce C. diff transmission in a hospital setting.
Not long ago, Beth Israel Medical Center's Dr. Brian Koll spearheaded a hospital collaborative involving 47 New York hospitals that used Clorox bleach as a disinfectant on a daily basis. He found that 80 percent of the hospitals reported a reduction in C. diff. Further, we've also found effective results with non-bleach based sporicidals (our preferred solution is Perisept) as well as appropriate hydrogen peroxide solutions provided by Diversey, one of our product partners.
The Right Technology
Beyond the right process and products, technology is also required to properly mitigate the threat of superbugs. In high-risk situations, our cleaning and disinfecting practices need assistance. The CDC recognizes ultraviolet (UV) radiation kills bacterial spores in C. diff, and its application will destroy airborne organisms or inactive microorganisms on surfaces.
Crothall has a strategic partnership with Surfacide®, an automatic disinfection system that uses shortwave ultraviolet (UV-C) light to destroy C. diff, MRSA, and other drug-resistant pathogens. It uses a triple-emitter array to eliminate “shadows” – surfaces UV light cannot reach – and cut disinfection time.
Back in 2015, Crothall acquired a Surfacide® triple emitter system for Jersey Shore University Medical Center to fight the medical intensive care unit's few reported infections. In four months, the hospital went from a handful of healthcare associated infections (HAIs) to none at all. The results were so convincing that Meridian bought six sets of the triple-emitters for their five hospitals.”
Finally, while numerous hospitals use UV-C technology to disinfect their facilities, we are also exploring the validity of new electrostatic spray technology. We're in the process of gathering data to make sure it works, that it's safe for the environment and patients.
This multifaceted approach that identifies high-risk surfaces and then combats the superbug health threat using both appropriate disinfectant products and technologies allows us to better protect everybody in a hospital from superbugs.
Tips for Consumers
When it comes to resistant pathogens, superbugs in hospitals pose the biggest risk. However, it is possible to contract a superbug outside of the hospital setting as well.
While most of these superbugs are contracted within a hospital, individuals can take these steps to prevent antibiotic resistance:
- Disinfect high use “home” surfaces particularly in restrooms/kitchens.
- Use antibiotics as directed and only when needed.
- Complete the full treatment course as prescribed by your doctor, even if you feel better before finishing a course of antibiotics.
- Don't share antibiotics with others.
- Don't use leftover prescriptions.
- Maintain a diligent focus on hand hygiene.
Patient safety will always be our top priority and preventing infections – and the spread of superbugs -- is a daily battle that we are intent on winning. By continuing to invest in people and processes, working with clients and product manufacturers, I believe it's one we can win.