Respiratory infections may spread via personal clothing, study finds

Clothes worn by caregivers and people who are visiting infants in the neonatal intensive care unit may carry and spread respiratory infections in the NICU, according to recent research being presented at the International Conference on Emerging and Infectious Diseases.

Nusrat Homaira, PhD, a researcher from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, collected swabs from the personal clothing of caregivers and visitors in an NICU of the Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney. Dr. Homaira then examined the swabs for traces of respiratory syncytial virus — the leading cause of childhood respiratory hospitalizations among premature babies.

The study was conducted during periods of heightened seasonal RSV activity, when the number of hospital admissions due to RSV increased. Highlighted below are three findings from Dr. Homaira's study.

1. A total of 4 percent of the clothing swabs collected had detectable traces of RSV.

2. RSV was also detected on 9 percent of the high-touch areas in the NICU, including computers on the nurse's table, bedside chairs and the patients' bed rails.

3. RSV was not detectable in the hands of the physicians, nurses or the visitors. There was alcohol based hand rub available at point of care and hand hygiene practices were prevalent within the NICU.

"Though the detection rate is low, personal clothing of caregivers and visitors do get contaminated with RSV," said Dr. Homaira, who pointed out that caregivers and visitors are not required to change clothing when they walk into the hospital's NICU. "There is a need for further research to evaluate how long the virus remains infectious on personal clothing, which will have policy implications in terms of need for use of separate gowns by the visitors while they are in the NICU."



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