Michael Ohl of the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City said contamination occurred rapidly -- 12 out of 13 freshly washed curtains hung during the study were contaminated within a week with potentially harmful bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant MRSA and vancomycin-resistant enterococcus species.
The findings suggest healthcare workers should wash their hands after touching privacy curtains and before touching the patient and that there is a need for interventions to prevent bacterial contamination of hospital privacy curtains, Ohl said.
Over a three-week period, 180 swab cultures were obtained twice weekly from the leading edge of 43 separate privacy curtains in 30 rooms -- eight medical intensive care units, seven surgical intensive care units and 15 medical wards, Ohl said.
Ninety-five percent of the curtains demonstrated contamination on at least one occasion; MRSA was detected from 21 percent and VRE from 42 percent of curtains among other germs.
The findings were presented at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Chicago.