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One Major Issue Causing  Healthcare-Associated Infections in Your Hospital

There’s power in numbers, especially when it comes to bacteria.

Since it’s easier to kill an individual bacterium, bacteria form groups and stick together to protect themselves. The large, powerful cells that they build together are called biofilms.

Biofilms adhere to surfaces, such as hospital sinks, door handles, and implantable devices. In short, they’re all over your hospital. However, most standard cleaning practices are unable to eradicate them.

If a biofilm makes it into a patient’s body, it can be dangerous — or even deadly. Not only is biofilm much less susceptible to antibiotics than other bacteria, but it’s also a direct cause of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).

Graphic: The Connection Between Biofilm and HAIs Biofilm may be related to over 70% of healthcare-associated infections. Source: Science Daily

The Connection Between Biofilm and HAIs
Biofilm may be related to over 70% of healthcare-associated infections.

Source: Science Daily

Biofilm is more than a nuisance — it can cause complications, longer hospital stays, and death. In order to reduce the risk of biofilm impacting the patients in your hospital, it needs to be addressed hospital-wide. Biofilm can spread from one area of your hospital to other areas that are nearby, on different floors, and even in nonclinical locations, such as cafeterias.

The bacteria in biofilms make it their mission to survive and replicate — which is why you need to make it your mission to eradicate biofilm in your hospital.

What Is Biofilm, and What Infections Does It Cause?

When bacteria band together, the biofilms they form can fight off enemies more effectively. To biofilms, products that are frequently used to fight bacteria in hospitals — such as disinfectant chemicals and antibacterial drugs — are enemies.

Biofilm can appear as a slime, discoloring, or buildup, and it can form in many places around your hospital, including sinks, faucets, floor drains, and toilets.

When a provider washes their hands before caring for a patient, they may be cleaning their hands using water that’s passed through a faucet contaminated with biofilms, which contaminates the water. Even more, that water has the capability of splashing into patient care spaces of more than 4 feet away.

Other times, biofilm isn’t easily seen — and it’s hiding in places that might not be cleaned quite as frequently, such as air handlers, air conditioning evaporation trays, water coolers, and fountains.

The problem with biofilm is when it finds its way inside a patient. This usually occurs through medical devices and implants. Even with the standardized processes done to thoroughly clean this equipment, biofilm is pervasive — and this can result in serious complications.

Biofilm can lead to infections, such as:

  • Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) infections, which can contribute to death in up to 50% of patients who are infected
  • Chronic otitis media, which can cause inflammation of the middle ear
  • Keratitis, which can cause inflammation of the cornea
  • Infective endocarditis, which can cause inflammation of the heart valve surfaces

Other common conditions that biofilm may cause, prolong, or complicate include:

  • Strep throat
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Lyme disease
  • Lupus
  • Chronic rhinosinusitis
  • Irritable bowel disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis 

Biofilm can also impair wound healing and cause antibiotic resistance, making it harder for patients to recover.

Biofilm isn’t just dangerous for patients’ health — it’s challenging to detect and to treat. It may manifest as a chronic or recurrent infection, and the bacteria itself may not show up in swabs, cultures, and stool samples.

How Hospitals Try to Eradicate Biofilm — and Why It Doesn’t Work

A healthcare-associated infection caused by biofilm is difficult to treat with standard antibiotics, so it’s critical to take the necessary steps to keep your hospital environment clean and free of biofilms.

Unfortunately, many hospitals' cleaning regimens do not consider the aggressive nature of biofilm.

Some common cleaning practices that are ineffective against biofilm include:

  • Using bleach to clean drains and surfaces (biofilm is bleach-resistant) 
  • Only wiping down surfaces, which can leave over 3% of biofilm behind
  • Not using personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid transferring biofilm
  • Missing potential sites for biofilm growth, such as air vents, ice machine drains, and water fountains
  • Not including all departments in biofilm cleaning, including food services and storage areas

If biofilm makes it onto an implantable device, such as a knee implant, it’s dangerous to rely on antimicrobial treatments. While these may be effective against other bacteria, they do little against biofilm.

How to Effectively Address Biofilm in Your Hospital

Eradicating biofilm in your hospital environment is challenging, which is why it’s essential to have a team of trained professionals who are up to the task. The team needs to understand how to address biofilm issues in all departments and areas of your hospital from patient rooms to cleaning storage closets to the cafeteria.

The necessary approach to biofilm removal depends on many factors, including the accessibility of the area, electrical considerations, and the patient care environment. 

Effective interventions that can be used to address biofilm include:

  • Scrubbing or high-pressure spraying
  • Steam generators, which use high-pressure water nozzles to disrupt and remove biofilm
  • Chemical solutions, such as disinfectant anolyte and catholyte, or enzymatic cleaners

It’s also important to remove any contaminated water from surrounding areas, such as the floor, and finish with a clean water rinse followed by a properly diluted solution of a germicidal agent.

Biofilm removal teams must be trained to be aware of commonly infected areas that often go unnoticed. It’s also critical to make sure their cleaning supplies, clothing, and footwear are cleaned and free from contamination.

Biofilm may be stubborn — but it’s not invincible. With the proper procedures, equipment, and trained professionals, biofilm can be removed from your hospital surfaces, lowering your patients’ risks of hospital-associated infections.

The right chemicals properly deployed kill biofilm. Learn how we can keep your hospital clean with Protecta.

January 28, 2020

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