Filthy X-Ray Equipment Blamed for Spreading Infections in Hospitals

Israeli researchers looking into the spread of drug-resistant infections in hospital intensive-care units are pointing a finger of blame at portable X-ray equipment that is not properly sanitized.

Officials from Hadassah Hebrew University Hospital in Jerusalem say observation of technicians performing 173 chest X-rays found that more often than not, the machines may be spreading infections among patients. In only two of the procedures, just one percent of the total, adequate infection control measures were used. Testing of the equipment found drug-resistant bacteria on the surfaces of 12 out of 30 of the X-ray machines, according to a Reuters News report.

While unsanitary handling of medical equipment has been named as a suspect before, authors of the study said theirs is the first to look specifically at portable X-ray machines and technicians who use them as a possible source of spreading drug-resistant infections in hospitals.

“To date, no one had looked at the X-ray technicians and their equipment and seen them as a potential link in the network of cross contamination of ICU patients with highly antibiotic resistant bacteria,” said Dr. Phillip D. Levin.

MRSA Among Most Dangerous Drug-Resistant Infections

One form of drug-resistant that has attracted a lot of attention recently is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA as it is called for short. Once found almost exclusively in hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare settings, the form of bacterial staph infection has exploded into other community settings, such as schools, gym locker rooms, and other areas where many people congregate or live in close quarters.

MRSA causes about 90,000 serious infections and 18,000 deaths in the United States each year and officials are fighting to prevent its spread. In most cases, proper hand washing by physicians, nurses, and others who are in close contact with many people who may be infected does the trick.

Short-Term Improvement Seen, But …

In the recent study, once the researchers shared their findings and talked with the technicians about proper cleaning of the X-ray machines, the rate of infections found decreased significantly, the study said. Proper infection control was observed in about 42 percent of later X-ray exams and none of the 29 machines tested positive for drug-resistant strains of bacteria.

However, the improvements didn’t last long, researchers said.

When researchers followed up with technicians at the same hospital five months later, adequate infection control methods were only used 10 percent of the time and half of the X-ray machines yielded samples of drug-resistant bacteria, the study said.

“Based on the results of this study, our hospital has instituted a wide-ranging disinfection protocol for all X ray equipment,” Levin said.

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