A study published in ICHE by a team from the University of Iowa evaluated the effectiveness of antimicrobial impregnated hospital curtains. The powerful double-blinded RCT study design of 15 standard curtains and 15 curtains impregnated with a metal-alloy based ‘complex element compound (CEC)’ meant there was no doubt that the differences between the two study arms were due to the curtains. The antimicrobial CEC curtains took longer to become contaminated (14 vs. 2 days) but were not significantly less contaminated in the later culture results.
The authors conclude that the ‘Use of privacy curtains with antimicrobial properties could increase the time between washings and may potentially play a role in decreasing pathogen transmission.’
The list of pathogens cultured from the curtains during the study is compelling: MRSA, VRE, Acinetobacter species, methicillin-susceptible S.aureus, E. coli, Pseudomonas species, Klebsiella species, vancomycin-susceptible enterococci, Enterobacter species, Leclercia adecarboxylata, Pantoea agglomerans, Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, Proteus mirabilis, Serratia plymuthica, Sphingomonas paucimobilis, and Citrobacter freundii. These findings highlight the importance of curtains as a potential reservoir for pathogen transmission.
In terms of study limitations, there were some structural differences between the curtains (woven vs. knitted) that could have contributed to the difference between the groups. Also, it would have been useful to know more about the exact chemical composition of the complex element compound (CEC) used. Finally, the authors did not assess contamination with C. difficile spores and effectiveness of the chemical compound used against spores seems unlikely.
I wonder how often privacy curtains are changed on average? As with any other antimicrobial intervention, the product is only as good as the practice. This study provides some useful data on a novel product that could help to reduce the overall burden of microbial contamination in healthcare facilities and, in doing so, contribute to increased patient safety.
Article citation: Schweizer M, Graham M, Ohl M et al. Novel hospital curtains with antimicrobial properties: a randomized, controlled trial. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2012; 33: 1081-5.