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Saskia v. Popescu, PhD, MPH, MA, CIC, is a hospital epidemiologist and infection preventionist. During her work as an infection preventionist, she performed surveillance for infectious diseases, preparedness, and Ebola-response practices. She holds a doctorate in Biodefense from George Mason University where her research focuses on the role of infection prevention in facilitating global health security efforts. She is certified in Infection Control and has worked in both pediatric and adult acute care facilities.

Fighting C Diff Contamination With a Different Cleaning Approach

FEB 22, 2019 | SASKIA V. POPESCU
Clostridium difficile (C diff) infections are pretty much a nightmare for infection preventionists. They cause horrible illness in patients and the spore is environmentally hardy, which makes disinfection efforts extremely challenging. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, in the United States, half a million cases of C diff occur every year, and roughly 15,000 people die due to the infection. As a result of the severity of these infections and the challenges for infection control, it’s not surprising that surveillance and reporting is required not only by many state laws, but also reimbursement regulations through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). All of these factors make C diff prevention a major focus for hospitals. 

Since the C diff spores are so environmental hardy, cleaning and disinfecting is particularly challenging. Bleach products are required to combat the spread of the spores on surfaces and fomites while soap and water is required for hand hygiene instead of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. These cleaning requirements pose problems though; sometimes bleach can be corrosive on medical equipment if manufacturer guidelines aren’t followed. Moreover, C diff can easily spread if patients aren’t isolated appropriately, if the room isn’t cleaned effectively, if hygiene failures occur, etc. One of the tough aspects of infection control in the face of C diff is the role of the asymptomatic carrier (i.e. the patient who is not experiencing symptoms that would trigger testing and isolation precautions but has the capacity to shed the spores). 

A new study in the American Journal of Infection Control sought to address this often undervalued vector for transmission and the true burden of C diff spores in rooms after they were cleaned post-discharge and did not house a C diff patient. Investigators used the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, a 215-bed acute care facility, to test whether cleaning with bleach products in non-C diff rooms would impact contamination. Prior to their study, daily and discharge cleaning for C diff rooms utilized bleach wipes, while a quaternary ammonium disinfectant was used for non-C diff rooms. Investigators used Clorox Healthcare Fuzion Cleaner, which is a bleach spray that has less corrosive effects. Although cleaning efficacy had previously been measured with fluorescent markets, the team relied on cultures to identify both C diff spore and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) contamination for this study. 

Non-C diff rooms were tested for 3 weeks before the switch to the bleach-spray disinfectant and then, after the swap, tested again after cleaning of the room but before admission of a new patient. Ultimately, the goal was to determine how many rooms had environmental contamination with C diff spores before and after the change in disinfectants.

There were 51 non-C diff rooms tested after the post-discharge cleaning and prior to the switch to the bleach spray, and 39 non-C diff rooms were cultured after switching to the bleach product. The results were pretty astounding and definitely make the case for using bleach-based products in all post-discharge rooms. Prior to switching products, 24% (12/51) of the rooms had contamination of at least one site (room and/or bathroom) and 10% had MRSA contamination. When cleaning practices were switched to use the bleach spray, the rate of contamination severely dropped—2 of 39 rooms. This trend was statistically significant and also seen in the MRSA contamination. 

In this case, the investigators found that by using the bleach-based spray for the post-discharge cleaning of a non-C diff patient’s room, they reduced the contamination from 24% to 5%. Although the study is limited to a single hospital, it encourages further investigation into general C diff contamination throughout hospitals and whether bleach-based cleaning should be performed upon all discharges, regardless of patient diagnosis with C diff infections. As C diff continues to grow as a public health and health care concern, the role of environmental contamination will only become more critical. This study sheds light on a new cleaning strategy for hospital-wide disinfecting efforts to reduce microbial burden and C diff contamination. 
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