June 21, 2015
1 min read

Health care textiles rarely contaminated when washed, stored properly

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Health care laundering procedures are effective at preventing the spread of infection via laundered clothing in the workplace, according to a research review published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

“Recent innovations in the laundry industry have led to major advances in laundry equipment, laundry chemicals, fiber and fabric technology, and laundry facility design and engineering,” Lynne M. Sehulster, PhD, infectious disease epidemiologist at the CDC, wrote. “Collectively, these have enabled health care facilities and their contract laundry operators to provide a quality product for a diverse textile inventory of bed linens, towels, washcloths, patient gowns, uniforms, scrub suits, and drapes or other surgical textiles.”

To assess whether current industrial laundry processes are sufficient to interrupt patient-to-patient transmission of pathogens, Sehulster analyzed 12 confirmed health care textiles (HCT)-related outbreaks worldwide in the last 43 years, which affected more than 350 patients. Seven of these outbreaks occurred during the summer as the result of contamination from Bacillus cereus, including four cases involving towels that may have been warm and wet, she wrote.

Causes for the outbreaks included contaminated washing machines; improper wash cycles or water temperatures or issues regarding reused water (58%); textile storage conditions that promoted growth of microbial pathogens (33%); and the contamination of textiles during transit from the laundry facility to the hospital (8%). Sehulster said these findings suggest the importance for health care facilities to store and transport laundered HCT in contamination-free areas.

“Current infection prevention strategies for laundering and handling HCT appear to be adequate in preventing health care-associated infections, provided that every step is taken to maintain the hygienic quality of HCT prior to use,” Sehulster said in a press release. “However, if an outbreak occurs linked to HCT, it is not enough to conduct microbial sampling of laundered textiles and declare the laundry process to be the source of the problem. Each of the distinct operations of the laundry-handling process needs to be evaluated in order to pinpoint the root of the problem.” – by David Jwanier

Disclosure: Sehulster reports being a member of the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council from 2005 to 2012, but received no compensation.