Hospital privacy curtains are breeding grounds for deadly superbugs

Hospital privacy curtains are breeding grounds for deadly superbugs such as MRSA

  • University of Michigan experts studied curtains found on 625 specialist wards
  • Around one in five of them – 22% – were harbouring MRSA or other killer bacteria
  • The findings are concerning because privacy curtains are used around the world 

Hospital privacy curtains are a breeding ground for potentially deadly superbugs.

The curtains, which are frequently touched by patients, have been found to contain dangerous MRSA.

They are also a source of bacteria called vancomycin-resistant enterococci, or VRE, which can cause blood and urinary infections.

Privacy curtains are commonly contaminated with multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs) that can spread to patients, the researchers warned (stock)

Antibiotics have been doled out unnecessarily by GPs and hospital staff for decades, fueling once harmless bacteria to become superbugs. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously warned if nothing is done the world is heading for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.

It claimed common infections, such as chlamydia, will become killers without immediate solutions to the growing crisis.

Bacteria can become drug resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics or if they are given out unnecessarily. 

Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies claimed in 2016 that the threat of antibiotic resistance is as severe as terrorism.

Figures estimate that superbugs will kill 10 million people each year by 2050, with patients succumbing to once harmless bugs.

Around 700,000 people already die yearly due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria across the world. 

Concerns have repeatedly been raised that medicine will be taken back to the ‘dark ages’ if antibiotics are rendered ineffective in the coming years.

In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, there have only been one or two new antibiotics developed in the last 30 years.

In September, the WHO warned antibiotics are ‘running out’ as a report found a ‘serious lack’ of new drugs in the development pipeline.

Without antibiotics, C-sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements will become incredibly ‘risky’, it was said at the time.

Researchers led by the University of Michigan swabbed the edges of curtains dividing hospital beds where they were most touched.

Looking at more than 1,500 samples from the privacy curtains, they found more than one in five contained drug-resistant bugs.

The researchers, led by Kristen Gibson at the University of Michigan’s Department of Internal Medicine, said: ‘We were surprised to see that multi-drug-resistant organisms, especially VRE, shed by patients routinely contaminate their privacy curtains.

‘These pathogens on privacy curtains often survive and have the potential to transfer to other surfaces and patients. As privacy curtains are used all over the world, it’s a global issue.’

The results show six per cent of privacy curtains contained MRSA, a killer superbug which cannot be treated using standard antibiotics.

Another nine per cent contained VRE, which, like the other bugs, was also found on swabs taken from patients’ bodies.

Researchers, who presented their findings at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases in Amsterdam (SUBS – PLS KEEP), found no difference in curtain contamination between private and shared rooms.

They stated: ‘Further studies are needed to determine conclusively whether contaminated privacy curtains are a source of multi-drug-resistant organism transmission to patients.’

A Canadian study last year found almost 90 per cent of privacy curtains were infected with MRSA within two years of being fitted.


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