Curtains and pyjamas to become weapons against superbugs

A study has found that an antimicrobial treatment, which could be incorporated into dozens of surfaces on the ward, can kill MRSA on contact, reducing the risk of infection between patients.

Scientists hailed the discovery by researchers from Imperial College London as a “very significant” step in the war on hospital superbugs which kill 10,000 people a year.

The study found the product was 1,000 times more potent than its rivals in eliminating MRSA, and could be used on dozens of surfaces, creating environments which eradicate bugs instead of harbouring them.

Paint, light switches, medical equipment, staff uniforms and even pens and paper could be treated with Cliniweave, which uses a technique invented by a British company to incorporate an antimicrobial compound into textiles.

The five-year study, published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, found that within 60 minutes the treatment eliminated MRSA entirely. In tests on three rival treatments, the bug continued to multiply.

The agent in Cliniweave® works by destroying the enzymes in existing bacteria and preventing their multiplication.

The results are very promising; a fabric that can kill bacteria on contact could be a really significant way to reduce levels of infections in hospitals.

Mark Enright ~ Professer of Microbiology at Imperial College London

The leading infection expert said professionals had long known that different parts of the ward could form “hotspots” for infection, but said treatments for surfaces had shown limited effectiveness until now.

Separate research published by The Lancet found that in hospital wards tackling superbug outbreaks, MRSA could be detected on dozens of surfaces.

Of the sites tested, 41 per cent of bed linen was found to be contaminated, along with 40 per cent of patients’ clothing, and 27 per cent of furniture, including bed frames.

Nottingham University Hospitals trust have now begun replacing curtains on 100 wards at two sites with fabric treated with the product, which has already been introduced to wards at hospitals run by Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Hospitals trust.

Hugh Pennington, Emeritus Professor of microbiology at Aberdeen University, said the study findings appeared to be “extremely significant”.

We know that MRSA is often found on surfaces in hospitals, and anything that we can do to reduce the number of places from where patients can become contaminated should be pursued when so many lives are at stake.

Hugh Pennington ~ Emeritus Professor of Microbiology at Aberdeen University

Prof Enright said his team were now seeking funding to carry out further research to establish the effectiveness of the product in hospitals, where it could be used to treat as many surfaces as possible.

We want to carry out a trial using two intensive care units, where we can treat as many fabrics as possible – the staff uniforms, the bedding, the paint on the walls – to see how far we can reduce the risk of infection

Professor Engright

George Costa, managing director of Intelligent Fabric Technologies (IFT), which invented Cliniweave®, said the technology meant antimicrobial treatment could be incorporated into dozens of textiles ranging from paint to plastic.

IFT part-funded the peer-reviewed research, but played no part in the design of the study, or in carrying out the work or interpreting the findings.

While the risks of infection with bugs such as MRSA can be reduced if those who come into contact with patients have washed their hands, environments harbouring bugs leave staff, relatives and patients at constant risk of picking up new bacteria which can infect wounds and get into the bloodstream, sometimes proving fatal.

Latest annual figures show there were more than 1,500 deaths linked to MRSA in NHS hospitals in 2007, although the number of infections has since begun to fall.

Figures published in December showed the number of infections reduced by one third in 2008, after new measures were introduced by hospitals to promote hygiene. Latest annual figures show in total almost 10,000 people died from hospital infections, including MRSA and Clostridium Difficile.


By Laura Donnelly, Health Correspondent, Telegraph.co.uk

Last Updated: 11:00PM GMT 28 Feb 2009

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