Oct. 30 (UPI) -- Hospital room floors are quickly and frequently contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria within hours of a patient moving in, according to a study published Friday by the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.
The floors of nearly half of the rooms of 17 newly admitted patients in the Northeast Ohio VA Healthcare System tested positive for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, within the first 24 hours, the data showed.
In addition, up to 60% of the room floors had evidence of Clostridioides difficile, or C. diff., and vancomycin-resistant enterococci, or VRE, within four days of patient admission, the researchers said.
The contaminated floors in these rooms effectively create a route of transmission for these potentially dangerous bugs, they said.
"Our findings build upon a growing body of evidence that floors might be an underappreciated source of pathogen dissemination," study co-author Dr. Curtis Donskey told UPI.
Although "hospital cleaning and disinfection has substantially improved in recent years, there may be opportunities to further reduce the risk to patients by considering transmission routes that have not been given as much attention," said Donskey, a hospital epidemiologist at the Cleveland VA Medical Center.
Indeed, if the bacteria found in the analysis "stayed on floors," patients would be safe, he said.
However, he and his colleagues found "clear evidence that these organisms are transferred to patients, despite our current control efforts."
In a related study published in August, also by Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, researchers frequently detected COVID-19 virus cells on hospital floors and on the shoes of personnel on a dedicated ward.
On the COVID-19 ward, contamination was reduced with simple modifications of floor cleaning and disinfection protocols, they said.
"The virus survives for days on surfaces in lab testing and genetic material can be recovered from surfaces in rooms of COVID-19 patients," Donskey said.
"However, viable virus has not been cultured," he said -- meaning the contamination may not be sufficient enough to infect others.
MRSA and VRE are challenging to treat because they are resistant to many available antibiotic drugs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
MRSA infections most often occur on the skin -- causing pain and swelling -- but they can also strike elsewhere in the body, while VRE frequently affect the bloodstream or urinary tract and can cause fever and rapid heart rate, among other symptoms.
C. diff. is a common hospital-associated infection that affects up to 500,000 hospitalized patients nationally each year and causes life-threatening diarrhea and inflammation of the colon, the agency estimates.
For the new study, researchers working with the Department of Veterans Affairs' administration tracked contamination in the hospital rooms of 17 newly admitted patients to identify the timing and route of transfer of bacteria.
Before testing, rooms were thoroughly cleaned and sanitized and all patients screened negative for MRSA and other healthcare-associated bacteria.
Once the patients were admitted, the researchers observed interactions between patients and healthcare personnel and portable equipment, collecting cultures one-to-three times per day from patients, their socks, beds and other high-touch surfaces, as well as key sections of the floor, they said.
Eight of the rooms tested positive for MRSA within the first 24 hours, while C. diff. and VRE pathogens were found in 58% of patient rooms within four days of admission, the data showed.
Contamination often started on the floors, but ultimately moved to patients' socks, bedding and nearby surfaces, the researchers said.
"Many hospitals now monitor cleaning of high-touch surfaces and use technologies like ultraviolet light as an adjunct to manual cleaning," Donskey told UPI.
"More studies are needed to obtain additional evidence regarding the role of floors in pathogen transmission and to evaluate potential control measures," he said.