The numbers are dropped casually in conversation, but the implications are huge. One in 25 United States patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection (HAI). Every year, there are about 722,000 reported HAI cases in acute care hospitals. Of those, about 157,500 are surgical site infections (SSIs). These numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are the more modest statistics available, yet still frightening.
Efforts to control HAIs and SSIs have resulted in a flood of infection prevention products, countless studies and stricter practices. Budgets for 2016 are already rolling out, and these infection control innovations are starting to appear. Suppliers predict all of them will be universally accepted technologies in years to come.
A trend that turned heads in textiles has stretched to linens and surfaces, and it continues to expand to more applications. Different suppliers work antimicrobial agents, such as silver, into products to stop bacteria from multiplying.
“Antimicrobial technology immediately inhibits the growth of bacteria on the surface of the fabric. When used in conjunction with other measures and best practices for infection prevention and control by surgical teams, this antimicrobial treatment serves as an added layer of protection against cross-contamination,” explains Karan Jhunjhunwala, CEO and founder of LifeThreads.
LifeThreads manufactures scrubs with a zinc-based antimicrobial additive and fluid resistant features are incorporated in the fabric. Other suppliers, including Vestagen Technical Textiles, Inc., also offer variations of this technology.
Marc Lessem, chief marketing officer and senior vice president of sales for Vestagen Technical Textiles, Inc., said the best thing about fluid repellent, antimicrobial scrubs are they require nothing extra of healthcare workers. “Required behavior change is frequently the nemesis to adoption of new technology. The fact that this technology is considered a passive engineering control means it can be deployed without impacting current workflow or having the healthcare worker learn a new technique,” he explained.
Purchasing scrubs or linens with antimicrobial features is one option, but other suppliers, such as SilvaClean, have an alternative. New guidelines suggest facilities require staff to have apparel laundered on-site, instead of at home. To capitalize on this opportunity, suppliers have released washing machine cartridges containing antimicrobial properties. The cartridge is inserted, scrubs laundered like normal and when they are returned to staff, the scrubs come out with a layer of antimicrobial protection.
The concept of antimicrobial apparel makes sense, and suppliers test to prove the efficacy of antimicrobial claims. “For some, it has been easier to show only in-vitro (lab) results, like testing swatches in a petri dish, which does not reflect real-life settings,” Lessem explained. “What is important is to review the performance of garments to document effectiveness in a real, live-care setting.” No third-party data has been released, but some professional organizations, such as the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN), have amended their guidelines to suggest antimicrobial apparel.
“Hospitals have been taking measures for hand hygiene, environmental cleaning, hard surface sanitization… so what’s next? We believe the answer is antimicrobial treatment,” Jhunjhunwala said.
This treatment is also being applied to medical instruments. After the antimicrobial urology catheter was released in the 1980s, implants, wound dressings and other catheters have incorporated this technology. Today, companies, such as Sciessent, are working with suppliers to embed antimicrobial agents in medical devices, such as hard-to-sterilize endoscopes.
“Antimicrobial-embedded medical devices are absolutely an option for ORs. We are seeing more and more of our customers embark on projects for both implants and reusable devices,” Lise Moloney, the director of business development, healthcare, at Sciessent, said. “The risk of infection around implants – especially orthopedic devices – is growing, and manufacturers are taking note.
The technology is also starting to be applied to high-touch surfaces around the OR as a second line of defense after manual cleaning. “The antibiotic-resistant infections that patients are contracting today are very difficult to treat, so organizations across healthcare – not just hospitals – are looking for ways to limit the risk of these dangerous organisms,” Moloney said. “Relying on environmental services, such as cleaning crews, is simply not enough anymore.”
However, clearance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is creating a challenge, as its guidelines are only in draft form.
This article was featured in the November/ December 2015 issue of Surgical Products. To see the complete issue, click HERE.