Study: Patient Privacy Curtains Represent Infection Risk

The results of a new study show that patient privacy curtains are commonly contaminated with multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs), raising the risk of infection and disease transmission.

The study was conducted at skilled nursing facilities by researchers from the University of Michigan Medical Center. They obtained bacterial culture samples from patient body sites and high-touch surfaces in patient rooms on the day patients were admitted and again after 14 days, 30 days, then monthly up to 6 months, according to a report from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), a center within the University of Minnesota. The patient population consisted mostly of those on short-stay admissions recovering from acute-care hospitalization.

More than 1,500 samples from 625 rooms were obtained from the edges of privacy curtains — where they are most frequently touched. Analysis of the samples revealed more than one in five cultures taken were contaminated with MDROs. The most frequent MDRO detected: vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE). Also detected: drug-resistant gram-negative bacteria (including Acinetobacter baumannii, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Enterobacter cloacae) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The researchers found that in nearly 16% of sampling visits, patients and their privacy curtains were carrying the same MDRO concurrently. 

The results are concerning, noted lead author Lona Mody, a geriatrician at the University of Michigan Medical Center, because privacy curtains are common in facilities, patients and healthcare personnel frequently touch the curtains and the curtain undergo infrequent cleaning.

"Healthcare textiles and soft surfaces often fly under the radar," she said in the CIDRAP report. "Curtains are an issue because it is really required to touch them in order to move them … and healthcare workers are likely to touch the curtains after they do hand hygiene and before they see the patient."

The researchers' recommendations to reduce the infection risks associated with privacy curtain included the following:

  • Establishment of privacy curtain cleaning guidelines by regulatory agencies.

  • More frequent cleaning of privacy curtains.

  • Explore redesigning privacy curtains.

  • Emphasize the importance of hand hygiene.

The research was presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases in April.