The Science Journal of the American Association for Respiratory Care

2007 OPEN FORUM Abstracts

TRANSFER OF BACTERIA FROM THE INTENSIVE CARE UNIT TO RESPIRATORY THERAPIST PENS

S. Sinnett1, B. Engbretson2, D. F. Wolfe1


Background: In the healthcare setting, reducing the spread of pathogens is a challenging aspect of epidemiology. Incomplete cleaning of equipment and patient rooms between patients has been shown to be a means of transmission of pathogens from one patient to another. Any surface in the room such as bedrails, suction equipment, and bed linens can be considered fomites capable of being touched by any healthcare worker. Given these practices, it is possible that a common item such as a pen might become a vector in the transmission of microbes from one patient to another. The purpose of this study is to ascertain if microbes are present on pens that have been in use by respiratory therapists in intensive care units (ICU).

Methods: Cultures were obtained from 20 pens, used by respiratory therapists in the ICU, using a swab moistened with normal saline. The swabs were placed into saline for transport. The sample test tube was vortexed for 10 seconds. One tenth of a milliliter of saline was removed from the test tube and put onto a blood agar plate. The specimen was evenly distributed on the plate that was then placed into an incubator for twenty-four hours at thirty-five degrees Celsius. The plate was then assessed for the number of colony growths. The colonies were identified and quantified using standard microbiological techniques. A two-sample T-test with unequal variances was conducted to determine if there was a significant difference in counts between day and night shift therapists.

Results: Of the samples (n=20) that were plated, seventeen showed growth in the form of colony forming units (CFU). The mean was 12.6 with a standard deviation of 12.9 CFUs. The range of CFUs was 0 – 125. Coagulase negative staphylococcus was identified on all 17 test plates showing growth. Micrococcus sp was identified on 3 plates. A two-sample T-test showed no significant difference between day and night shift therapists.

Conclusions: This study showed that pens can carry bacteria and could be vectors of transmission and therefore be a possible source of nosocomial infections. In addition to standard cleanliness protocols, this study suggests that cleanliness protocols may need to be extended to writing implements, or alternatively have a dedicated writing implement assigned to a patient‘s room. Further studies, with larger sample sizes, may find significant statistical differences between pens used during various shift work times and/or in different areas of the hospital.

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