How to keep hospital tap hygienic

Healthcare workers washing their hands at hospital sinks could be spreading germs around the patient environment, according to new research.

And there are concerns that a build-up of biofilms inside the taps could be contaminating the water.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System looked at eight different washbasin designs across four intensive care units. They discovered that potentially contaminated water was being splashed outside the shallower sinks and into patient care spaces – sometimes at distances of more than four feet from the sink itself. They also discovered that the inside of taps were dirtier than they had expected.

“Potentially hazardous germs in and around sinks present a quandary for infection preventionists, since having accessible sinks for handwashing is integral to everything we promote,” said study author Kristen VanderElzen.

Researchers used adenosine triphosphate (ATP) monitoring to measure the cleanliness of the sinks and taps. This revealed visible biofilms from which cultures grew Pseudomonas aeruginosa, mould and other organisms during the study period.

“As we learn more about the often stealthy ways in which germs can spread inside healthcare facilities, infection preventionists play an increasingly important role in healthcare facility design – including in the selection of sink and tap fixtures,” said Karen Hoffmann, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control.

As a result of the study, the hospital is undertaking a comprehensive tap replacement programme and installing sink guards, which were shown to significantly limit splash. The researchers detailed their findings at the 46th Annual Conference of the association in Philadelphia.