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Hospital Laundry Practices Adequate to Prevent Infection Spread

ATLANTA – Everything came out in the wash, and that should satisfy hospital infection control standards.

A new review, published online in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, focused on the importance of proper laundering and handling to maintain the hygienically-clean quality of healthcare fabrics and textiles delivered to the point of care.

A researcher from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta led the review, which used peer-reviewed studies as well as current standards and guidelines to highlight evidence-based strategies to inhibit potentially serious contamination.

"We asked the question if current industrial laundry processes are sufficient to interrupt patient-to-patient transmission via clean healthcare textiles (HCT),” said lead author Lynne Sehulster, PhD, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the CDC. “The evidence we examined suggests this is indeed the case; we found no evidence of microbial carry-over from one patient to the next for patient-care textiles when proper textile management and laundering specifications were used.”

The report notes that outbreaks of infectious disease associated with laundered HCT are extremely rare. In fact, only 12 such outbreaks have been reported worldwide in the past four decades.

Generally, analyses of those outbreaks have identified the culprits as exposure of clean HCTs to environmental contamination, such as dust in storage areas, or a process failure during laundering – not poor processes.

"Current infection prevention strategies for laundering and handling HCT appear to be adequate in preventing healthcare-associated infections, provided that every step is taken to maintain the hygienic quality of HCTs prior to use,” Sehulster noted “However, if an outbreak occurs linked to HCT, it is not enough to conduct microbial sampling of laundered textiles and declare the laundry process to be the source of the problem. Each of the distinct operations of the laundry-handling process needs to be evaluated in order to pinpoint the root of the problem.”

The review was limited to clean HCT from laundries. “We did not address contamination that occurs while the HCT are in use,” she added. “That's a topic for future study.”