MRSA in the Air: How Hospitals Can Protect Patients from Infection - Part 2

Read part 1 of this blog post here.

MRSA in the Air

Surfaces can become contaminated with MRSA by the touch of a colonized or infected person— or when airborne MRSA particles settle on these surfaces.

As mounting research confirms, airborne MRSA droplets hover in healthcare facilities and play a role in MRSA colonization and infection, especially via a patient’s nasal cavity and respiratory tract.

In a Japanese study, air samples were collected from the rooms of head and neck cancer patients who had been colonized or infected with MRSA after surgery. About 20% of the MRSA particles were small enough to be respirable. Furthermore, the identical strain of MRSA was found on sinks, floors, bedsheets, and patients’ hands.

The upshot: MRSA was recirculated among the patients, air, and surfaces, especially when there was movement in the rooms, like when bedsheets were changed. “Measures should be taken to prevent the spread of airborne MRSA,” the scientists concluded.

Turkish researchers also detected airborne MRSA, after tracking 179 patients in operating theatres and intensive care units. In fact, MRSA was one of the two most common airborne pathogens identified. (The other was Acinetobacter baumannii). A high concentration of viable airborne particles, the researchers concluded, “seems to be a significant risk factor” for infections in patients with compromised immune systems.

It’s impossible to know what percentage of MRSA infections are transmitted through the air, but substantial research implicates airborne spread of pathogens such as MRSA in the superbug crisis.

As a University of Leeds aerobiologist noted, “The contribution of airborne micro-organisms to the spread of infection is likely to be greater than is currently recognised.”

Air Disinfection Technology: Killing MRSA While Protecting Patients

Containing MRSA will require efforts on many fronts, including better hand hygiene and more prudent use of antibiotics. In addition, hospitals and nursing homes must upgrade disinfection standards and technology, for both surfaces and indoor air.

Improving surface disinfection often requires a substantial investment in staff cleaners, as studies link outsourced cleaning to higher infection rates. For example, in a study of 126 English hospitals, those using outsourced cleaners reported nearly 50% more MRSA infections than hospitals with in-house cleaners.

“Contracting out [cleaning] may save money, but this is at the price of increasing risks to patients’ health,” wrote study co-author David Stuckler, Ph.D., a public health expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Air disinfection, by contrast, does not require a significant financial investment — yet is highly effective when advanced technology is deployed.

For hospitals and nursing homes throughout Europe, ultra-low-energy plasma technology by Novaerus has become a critical weapon in the fight against MRSA, Clostridium difficile, and other superbugs, as well as airborne viruses such as influenza and norovirus.

Novaerus technology has proven to be highly effective against MRSA. For example, the NV900 has been shown to reduce 99.99% of MRSA bacteria over four hours, and the NV1050 has been shown to reduce Staphylococcus epidermidis (a surrogate for MRSA) by 99.9% within 15 minutes of operation.

In the healthcare setting, ultra-low-energy plasma technology is an important addition to ventilation and filtration. Whereas conventional HVAC filters capture only large particles, Novaerus units destroy the smaller – and deadlier – ones, including MRSA.

What’s more, Novaerus technology is safe for continuous use around vulnerable patients, unlike other aggressive air-sanitation methods. UV, for example, can promote the formation of cataracts, while misting hydrogen peroxide can irritate the skin, and photocatalytic oxidation produces formaldehyde.

Novaerus technology can be easily mobilized in high-risk situations like surgeries or operated continuously in large patient wards, ICUs, and emergency rooms.

As MRSA and other superbug infections become more difficult to treat, healthcare facilities must work to destroy these pathogens in the air, before they are inhaled by patients or land on lab coats, surgical gloves, door knobs, and other surfaces that easily transmit infection.