How do superbugs travel from sinks to patients?

Bacteria proliferate in hospital sink drains, and new research from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville charts out bacteria's pathways from the sink to hospital patients.

The research is published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

"Our study demonstrates that bacterial spread from drainpipes to patients occurs via a staged mode of transmission," said Amy Mathers, MD, the study's lead investigator and an associate professor of medicine and pathology.

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Bacteria colonize in the elbows of drainpipes and can grow up the pipes at a rate of about one inch each day. Usually, that means bacteria can reach the sink bowl in about a week. Then, they are splattered around the sink and the sink's surroundings.

Dr. Mathers and her team conducted the research in a sink lab, which contains five identical sinks modeled after sinks commonly found in hospital intensive care units. They used E. coli for this experiment.

Now that they know how bacteria grow and spread to the area, Dr. Mathers and her team are conducting a follow-up study in collaboration with the CDC to figure out how those bacteria reach patients.

"This type of foundational research is needed to understand how these bacteria are transmitted so that we can develop and test potential intervention strategies that can be used to prevent further spread," she said.


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