Study: Hospital Bedsheets Could Be Source of C. difficile Contamination

Bed linens could be a source of Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) among patients, according to a new study published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology (ICHE). Researchers in the United Kingdom found that washing contaminated hospital bedsheets in a commercial washing machine with industrial detergent at high disinfecting temperatures failed to remove all traces of C. difficile, a bacteria that causes infectious diarrhea.

“The findings of this study may explain some sporadic outbreaks of C. difficile infections in hospitals from unknown sources. However, further research is required in order to establish the true burden of hospital bedsheets in such outbreaks,” said Katie Laird, PhD, head of the infectious disease research group, School of Pharmacy, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK, and lead author of the study, in a statement.

Researchers inoculated swatches of cotton sheets with C. difficile. The swatches were then cleaned with sterile uncontaminated pieces of fabric using one of two methods. Some were in a simulated industrial washing cycle using a washer extractor with and without detergent; in the other method, naturally contaminated linens from the beds of patients with C. difficile were put through a full commercial laundry process, including being washed in a washer extractor with industrial detergent, pressed, dried, and finished according to the National Health Service’s healthcare laundry policy.

The levels of contamination were measured before and after washing. Both the simulated and commercial laundering failed to meet microbiological standards of containing no disease-causing bacteria, according to the study. The full process reduced C. difficile spores by only 40%, and it resulted in bacteria from the contaminated sheets being transferred to uncontaminated sheets after washing.

The research team is working with the Textiles Services Association in the U.K. to study which laundry method will remove C. difficile spores from hospital bedsheets.