Reflections from HIS 2014, Part II: Dealing with the contaminated environment

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Welcome to Part II of my reflections from HIS. For the box-set, see the list at the beginning of Part I here.

Dr Karen Vickery – Multispecies biofilms on dry hospital surfaces – harbouring and protecting multiantibiotic resistant organisms

Probably the most important update from the entire conference was more data from the Vickery lab on biofilms on dry hospital surfaces. She excised 44 dry surface samples from the ICU, put them under the electron microscope and, lo and behold, 41 of them (93%) had fully-fledged (if somewhat unusual) EPS-producing biofilms on! The implications are huge: this could explain extended surface survival, poor success rate of surface sampling, and result in reduced biocide susceptibility up to the tune of 1000x (see my review just published in JHI with Karen as a co-author for more on biocides and biofilm susceptibility).

Dr Silvia Munoz-Price – Controlling multidrug resistant Gram-negative bacilli in your hospital: We can do it so can you!

Dr Munoz-Price described her hospital’s impressive reductions on carbapenem-resistant A. baumannii – from 12 new isolates per week to virtually none today. So what worked? It’s difficult to be sure since it was a bundled intervention. Dr Munoz-Price described the rationale behind some elements of the bundle: environmental surface and staff hand sampling to visualize the invisible, environmental cleaning and disinfection to deal with the ‘fecal [sic] patina’ [a stooly veneer emanating from the rectum] (see Dr Munoz-Price and Dr Rosa’s guest blog for more details), and chlorhexidine bathing. Perhaps the most interesting aspect was the various implementation challenges that were overcome. It was amazing how far removed practice ‘in the trenches’ was from the policy set by the epidemiologist’s office, exemplified by environmental staff buying their own UV lamps to for “spot cleaning” removal of fluorescent markers of cleaning thoroughness. Overcoming these challenges required more that the stick (citations for non-compliance, which failed); culture change takes understanding, time and a very large carrot (and some sticks too, sometimes).

Jim Gauthier – faeces management

A number of key pathogens are associated with faecal colonization and shedding: C. difficile, VRE, ESBL and CRE. Jim didn’t mention MRSA, but this can also cause gastrointestinal colonization and, more controversially, infection. Enterobacteriaceae can survive on dry surfaces for longer than you’d expect, too. We traditionally worry about surface contamination of high-touch sites in inpatient settings. Floor contamination isn’t important (unless you happen to be a wheel chair user, a toddler, or drop your pen). Contamination in outpatient settings isn’t a problem either (unless you happen to have a fairly short consultation for a patient with VRE). So, what to do? Jim introduced the idea of a ‘hierarchy of control’; put another way, prevention is better than cure, so do we have the right systems in place to manage faeces which is teeming with hospital pathogens? For example, should we be enforcing mandatory contact precautions for all contact with faeces (standard precautions – which aren’t very standard anyway – are probably not adequate)? Finally, Jim mentioned the growing importance of faecal microbiota transplantation (and hearing a Canadian speak about this reminded me of a hilarious spoof video).

No-touch automated room decontamination (NTD)

medical equipment in a hospital roomFigure: Hospital bed rails are frequently contaminated, and often not easy to clean and disinfect using conventional methods. 

Paul Dickens – establishing Ebola surge isolation capacity in the UK

Paul Dickens gave a whistle-stop overview of the detailed plans for Ebola surge capacity in the UK (perish the thought). He began by describing the replacement of formaldehyde with hydrogen peroxide vapour for the decontamination of the patient isolators at the Royal Free High Level Isolation Unit (HLIU). They now have a tried and tested process and protocols in place to get the HLIU back online within days using hydrogen peroxide vapour decontamination, where the previous protocol using formaldehyde put it out of action for 6 weeks! (I was involved in writing the protocols for this tricky decontamination assignment, which were reported on a poster published at HIS.) Other challenges in establishing surge capacity include staff expertise, and PPE recommendations, supply & training. Surge capacity is now established. Let’s just hope we won’t need it!

Dr Frédéric Barbut – How to eradicate Clostridium difficile spores from the environment

There’s now plenty of evidence that contaminated surfaces contribute to the transmission of C. difficile. These environmental intervention studies show a 50-80% reduction in the rate of CDI; does this mean that 50-80% of CDI acquisition is environmentally-associated? This seems too high, but it’s difficult to think of another explanation. Furthermore, there is emerging but compelling evidence of a proportional relationship between the degree of C. difficile surface contamination and transmission risk? I really don’t think that the public have yet ‘got’ that the previous occupant can influence acquisition risk. And when they do, I think there will be increasing demand for properly decontamination rooms. So, is it time to turn to NTD systems? Sometimes, yes. And do you go for hydrogen peroxide or UV? Well, that depends on what you’re trying to achieve! If you’re trying to eliminate pathogens, which sometimes you will be, then hydrogen peroxide vapour is the best choice. But if you’re trying to reduce contamination levels without necessarily eliminating all pathogens, then UV is the best choice due to its speed and ease of use.

The debate: “Hospitals that do not use high-tech decontamination of the environment are doing their patients a disservice.”

This debate pitted Profs Hilary Humphreys and Phil Carling (pro) against Peter Hoffman and Martin Kiernan (con). It was lively, entertaining and engaging…

Prof Humphreys argued that it is not acceptable to admit patients to rooms with inherent additional risk for transmission. We can address this by ‘walking like the Egyptians’ and copperising our surfaces, for which there is now some data with a clinical outcome. Another approach is NTD systems, for which data (including some clinical outcomes) are emerging. Prof Carling’s presentation was somewhat unusual, with his arguments seemingly an appeal to common sense rather than drawn from the published literature.

Martin Kiernan began by acknowledging the role of the environment, but that hand contamination is almost always the final vector (and there’s some evidence for this). The cornerstone of Martin’s argument was that whether NTD systems work is the wrong question. We should be focusing our time, money and attention on improving conventional methods which have been shown to reduce transmission. Peter Hoffman complemented Martin’s pragmatic viewpoint with thorough, thoughtful critiques of the studies on HPV decontamination with a clinical outcome. The 2008 Boyce study has more holes than the 2013 Passaretti study, which itself is far from watertight!

The key argument for turning to NTD systems is that admission to a room previously occupied by a patient with an MDRO increases the risk of acquisition due to residual contamination, and NTD decontamination mitigates this increased risk. So, my own conclusion is that hospitals that do not use high-tech decontamination of the environment are indeed doing their patients a disservice. Sometimes!

Look out for the third and final installment of my reflections from HIS 2014 at some point tomorrow!

Image: Medical equipment in a hospital room.

Is it time to turn to ‘no-touch’ automated room disinfection?

I gave a webinar for 3M yesterday entitled ‘Is it time to turn to ‘no-touch’ automated room disinfection (NTD)?’ It was based broadly on a recent Journal of Hospital Infection review article, and you can access the slides here.

The webinar covered:

  • The key data supporting the need for improved hospital disinfection, particularly ‘terminal disinfection’ when patients are discharged.
  • The strengths and limitations of conventional disinfection methods, particularly in terms of reliance on the operator to ensure adequate formulation, distribution and contact time of the active agent.
  • The potential benefits of introducing automation into the room disinfection process.
  • Coverage of the advantages and disadvantages of the various “no-touch” automated room disinfection systems currently available.
  • Scenarios in which NTD systems may be warranted.

To summarize the rationale for using an NTD system: enhanced conventional methods are able to eliminate pathogens from surfaces, but the inherent reliance on a human operator to ensure adequate formulation, distribution and contact time of the active agent introduces variability into the process. NTD systems remove or reduce reliance on the operator for delivering hospital disinfection. However, they do not obviate the need for cleaning, so they are designed to augment rather than replace conventional methods.

So when to consider an NTD system? The flow chart below (Figure 1) shows a decision tree for which cleaning and disinfection approach to take. Given their practical limitations, NTD systems are best suited to disinfection of a room after a patient colonized or infected with a pathogen has been discharged to protect the incoming patient from acquiring the pathogen left behind by the prior room occupant. A recent study of a hydrogen peroxide vapor (HPV) NTD system shows that patients admitted to rooms disinfected using HPV were 64% less likely to acquire any multidrug-resistant organism (MDRO) than patients admitted to rooms disinfected using standard methods when the prior room occupant had an MDRO.Flow chartFigure 1. A disinfection decision diagram for when to consider an NTD system. a) Key pathogens associated with contamination of the environment include C. difficile, VRE, MRSA, A. baumannii, P. aeruginosa and norovirus. b) All NTD systems are applied after a cleaning step to ensure that surfaces are free from visible contamination, which is unacceptable to subsequent patients and will reduce the efficacy of the NTD disinfection. c) There is limited equivocal evidence that enhanced cleaning / disinfection in a low-risk general ward setting can reduce the spread of pathogens.

Ok, so you’ve decided that you want to use an NTD system. Which one to choose? Every conference I go too seems to have more and more NTD systems on show, all with bold and often conflicting claims. There are essentially four classes of NTD system that are commonly used in hospitals:

  • Hydrogen peroxide vapor (HPV)
  • Aerosolized hydrogen peroxide (aHP)
  • Ultraviolet C (UVC)
  • Pulsed-xenon UV (PX-UV)

I asked the audience which, if any, NTD system had been used in their hospital (Figure 2). 90% of the predominantly US based audience had not used an NTD system at all, which was a surprise. In the hospitals that had used an NTD system, there was a fairly even split between HPV and the UV systems.Which systemFigure 2. Has your hospital used an NTD system and if so, which one?

Each of these systems have advantages and disadvantages, which I have tried to summarize in the following table by ranking the systems in the key categories. The hydrogen peroxide systems tend to have higher efficacy and better distribution than the UV systems. But the UV systems are faster and easier to use. Thus, there is a trade-off between efficacy / distribution and cycle time / ease of use when deciding which NTD system would be more appropriate.Comparision table Table: Comparing the key features of the four commonly used NTD systems.

In order to illustrate the challenges in choosing a) whether to use and NTD system and b) which to use, I presented the audience with three scenarios. In scenario 1, below, I was expecting most people to select ‘conventional methods’ or one of the UV systems, which have both been shown to reduce the burden of contamination without reliably eliminating pathogens. The sheer number of patients with MRSA colonization transferred or discharged from general medical wards means that the additional time for HPV may not be warranted.Scenario 1Scenario 1. What do you do when a patient who was colonized with MRSA has been discharged from a room on a general medical ward?

Scenario 2 is an occasion where you want to be sure that residual contamination has been dealt with so that the incoming susceptible ICU patient will not acquire the virtually untreatable carbapenem-resistant A. baumannii. Therefore, HPV, which is associated with the elimination of pathogens from surfaces, is a rational choice.   Scenario 2Scenario 2: What do you do when a patient who had an infection with carbapenem-resistant A. baumannii has been discharged from an ICU room?

Scenario 3 is more tricky. While the likelihood of C. difficile spore contamination argues for the higher efficacy of the hydrogen peroxide systems, the number of transfers or discharges of patients with C. difficile on a surgical unit may be high, which argues for the lesser efficacy but faster cycles from the UV systems. The majority of the audience selected HPV in this scenario, considering that the combined risk of the pathogen and specialty required the elimination of C. difficile spores from the room prior to the admission of the next patient.    Scenario 3Scenario 3: What would you do when a patient who had C. difficile infection has been discharged from a room on a surgical unit?

To summarize, the use of an NTD system to augment terminal disinfection is warranted in some circumstances. The choice of NTD system will depend on a number of factors, including efficacy, distribution, ease of use, cycle time and cost. The features of the various NTD systems make them best suited to different applications, dictated by the clinical setting and the environmental-pathogenic characteristic of the target pathogen. So, is it time to turn to NTD systems? 52% of the audience voted ‘yes’ at the start of the webinar; 74% voted ‘yes’ at the end!Initial finalFigure 3: Is it time to turn to ‘no-touch’ automated room disinfection? The audience were asked this question at the start and the end of the webinar, indicating a swing towards the affirmative!

Article citation: Otter JA, Yezli S, Perl TM, Barbut F, French GL. Is there a role for “no-touch” automated room disinfection systems in infection prevention and control? J Hosp Infect 2013;83:1-13.

Hydrogen peroxide vapour vs. aerosol

q-10vsasp4

There has been an awful lot of discussion out in the field about various hydrogen peroxide systems used for “no-touch” automated room disinfection. Comparison of different systems through assessment of individual studies is tricky because different methods are used to assess the effectiveness of the products. Thus, the only way to get an accurate comparison of different technologies is through head-to-head comparisons.

A recently published study compared a hydrogen peroixde vapour (HPV) system (Bioquell) with an aerosolised hydrogen peroxide (aHP) system (ASP Glosair). The independent study was performed by researchers at St. Georges’ Hospital Testing was performed in a 50m3 room with a 13m3 anteroom, representing a single occupancy room with bathroom. For both systems it was found that rooms must be sealed to prevent leakage and room re-entry must be led by a hand held sensor to ensure safety. HPV generally achieved a 6-log reduction of spore BIs and in-house prepared test discs inoculated with MRSA, Clostridium difficile and Acineotbacter baumannii, whereas aHP generally achieved a 4-log reduction or less. The aHP system had reduced efficacy against the catalase-positive A. baumannii with a <2-log reductions in the majority of room locations. HPV was able to penetrate soiling more effectively than aHP and uneven distribution of the active agent within the enclosure was evident for aHP but not for HPV.

It is difficult to produce a laboratory challenge that is truly representative of field conditions, but the authors did a thorough job and used several different ways to measure the efficacy of the products, concluding that ‘the HPV system was safer to operate, slightly faster and achieved a greater level of biological inactivation than the aHP system.’

Article citation: Fu TY, Gent P, Kumar V. Efficacy, efficiency and safety aspects of hydrogen peroixde vapour and aerosolized hydrogen peroixde room disinfection systems. J Hosp Infect 2012; 80: 199-205.