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Study: Many long-term care facilities' surfaces haver disease-causing bacteria

Residents of long-term care facilities may be exposed to high levels of disease-causing bacteria on high-touch surfaces, according to a new study. Photo by Congerdesign/Pixabay
Residents of long-term care facilities may be exposed to high levels of disease-causing bacteria on high-touch surfaces, according to a new study. Photo by Congerdesign/Pixabay

Feb. 17 (UPI) -- More than 90% of "high-touch" surfaces in long-term care facilities are contaminated with fecal matter and other potential sources of infectious disease spread, a study published Thursday by the American Journal of Infection Control found.

Of more than 330 surfaces tested at 11 long-term care facilities in South Carolina, 98% had high levels of potentially disease-causing bacteria, the data showed.

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However, all of the surfaces tested negative for norovirus, an infection known to cause bloody diarrhea that is common in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, the researchers said.

"This study provides valuable new information that could help long-term care facilities monitor their cleaning practices," Linda Dickey, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control, said in a press release.

The findings could help these facilities "refine their infection-prevention plans to better protect patients from serious diarrheal illnesses," said Dickey, who was not part of the study.

Long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and assisted-living complexes have been the epicenters of infectious disease outbreaks, including those involving COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Diarrhea caused by norovirus and C. difficile infections are among the most commonly reported healthcare-associated infections in long-term care facilities, the CDC says.

About 60% of norovirus outbreaks and more than 50% of all C. difficile infections occur in these facilities, the agency estimates.

Both diseases can be transmitted by environmental surfaces contaminated with fecal matter, the CDC says.

For this study, the researchers used three tools to evaluate the cleanliness of a minimum of 30 surfaces in each of 11 long-term care facilities in South Carolina.

About 90% of high-touch surfaces in these facilities such as handrails, equipment, tables and chairs were positive for fecal matter, the data showed.

Handrails and equipment control panels were four times more likely to have high levels of fecal matter compared with other surfaces and locations in these facilities, the researchers said.

Patient bed handrails, as well as tables and chairs in patient lounges, had high levels of fecal matter and other disease-causing bacteria, they said.

Patient beds were about four times more likely than other surfaces to have high levels of fecal matter, while handrails in hallways were about three times more likely, according to the researchers.

Surfaces touched by patients and visitors were twice as likely to have high levels of disease-causing bacteria compared to those touched primarily by nursing and janitorial staff or by patients alone, the data showed.

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The findings could help long-term care facilities assess the cleanliness of high-touch surfaces and enhance infection prevention and control measures designed to prevent serious diarrheal diseases and deaths among their residents, the researchers said.

"Increasingly, hospitals are performing routine audits of high-touch surface cleanliness, helping to reduce morbidity and mortality among residents," study co-author Jennifer Cannon said in a press release.

"Our results suggest similar auditing programs would benefit long-term care facilities when included as part of their infection prevention programs," said Cannon, a CDC Foundation field employee.

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