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Earlier last month, researchers with the National Institutes of Health reported that many hospital plumbing systems are a ‘vast’ reservoir of drug-resistant superbug germs and other bacteria like Legionella. This report came after NIH officials had done checks of the plumbing at the their flagship hospital near Washington, D.C., checks which showed drains could be packed with bacteria and ultimately concluded that this issue is likely present at other hospitals.

Now the report also mentioned that the superbugs are not very common anywhere else in the hospitals and as such, they are simply unlikely to be an overall threat to the public. Even so, the NIH team also suggested that it’s good for hospitals to be generally aware of potential problems and thus be prepared for it.

The chief of microbiology at NIH’s clinical center hospital, Dr. Karen Frank, says that their research is, “not trying to send a scary message to people in their kitchens,”. This research initiative initially began on the subject of where germs live in hospitals in the aftermath of an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant infections which ended up killing 7 patients in the Clinical Center between 2011-2012.

Much of this research initiative ended up discovering that many of the bugs were in fact living within the plumbing and that the bacteria could even splash back out of sink drains. As a clarifying note, a second NIH survey found that the superbug germs are not common in locations where patients usually touch, such as counters, bed rails, wheelchairs and doorknobs. Drains, however, were found to be a common source of the bacteria, along with housekeeping closets.

Ultimately it will be impossible to completely sterilize hospitals and as such, Dr. Frank and her team do not expect to find the Clinical Center “100 percent clean”. The most important thing, however, will be to keep dirty mops and wastewater, along with anything else that may spread bacteria, away from the patients. This research has pushed the NIH to change its own methods and according to Dr. Frank, other hospitals should too.

Jules Zacher is an attorney in Philadelphia who has tried Legionnaires’ disease cases across the U.S.  Please visit again for updates.

Posted by jzacher">jzacher at 9:53 am

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