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Hospital privacy curtains are frequently and rapidly contaminated with potentially pathogenic bacteria.

Ohl M, Schweizer M, Graham M, Heilmann K, Boyken L, Diekema D. Hospital privacy curtains are frequently and rapidly contaminated with potentially pathogenic bacteria. American journal of infection control. 2012 Dec 1; 40(10):904-6.

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BACKGROUND: Privacy curtains are a potentially important site of bacterial contamination in hospitals. We performed a longitudinal study to determine the prevalence and time course of bacterial contamination on privacy curtains. METHODS: Over a 3-week period, swab cultures (n = 180) were obtained twice weekly from the leading edge of 43 curtains in 30 rooms in 2 intensive care units and a medical ward. Curtains were marked to determine when they were changed. Contamination with Staphylococcus aureus, methicillin-resistant S aureus (MRSA), Enterococcus spp, vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE), or aerobic gram-negative rods was determined by standard microbiologic methods. To distinguish persistence of pathogens on curtains from recontamination, all VRE and MRSA were typed using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis. RESULTS: Twelve of 13 curtains (92%) placed during the study showed contamination within 1 week. Forty-one of 43 curtains (95%) demonstrated contamination on at least 1 occasion, including 21% with MRSA and 42% with VRE. Eight curtains yielded VRE at multiple time points: 3 with persistence of a single isolate type and 5 with different types, suggesting frequent recontamination. CONCLUSION: Privacy curtains are rapidly contaminated with potentially pathogenic bacteria. Further studies should investigate the role of privacy curtains in pathogen transmission and provide interventions to reduce curtain contamination.

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