Soiled linens could be surface C. diff contamination source, study shows

Dirty linens from healthcare facilities may be a source of environmental Clostridium difficile contamination, according to a paper published in FEMS Microbiology Letters.

In 2015, researchers examined linens at a laundry facility that services six hospitals, 30 local outpatient clinics and the Washington National Primate Research Center, all located in the Seattle area. They collected 240 surface samples from dirty areas, which handle soiled clinical linens, and from clean areas, which process and fold the clean linens.

Of the samples taken from surfaces in the dirty areas, 23 percent tested positive for C. difficile. Only 2 percent of samples from the clean areas tested positive for C. difficile — these came from a small area where soiled linen is handled in small batches. Thus, the study found that the dirty linens were the likely source of the environmental contamination in the laundry.

The researchers do, however, note a number of study limitations, including the inherently poor recovery of microbes from environmental surfaces, difficulty in culturing C. difficile spores as well as differences in recommended incubation times and media used.

"This research supports the idea that it's possible for the soiled hospital linens to contaminate the environment with C. difficile, which is the number one cause of hospital associated diarrhea," said Marilyn Roberts, PhD, study author and professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington's public health school in Seattle.

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