Hospital warns of ‘superbug’ sink risk
Beaumont risk arises from use of sinksfor purposes other than washing hands
Infection control staff in Beaumond have found a potentially lethal bug in high-risk areas. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Doctors at Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital have been warned that they could expose patients to a potentially fatal infection through the simple act of washing their hands.
The risk arises from the use of hospital sinks for purposes other than washing hands, such as emptying water from flower vases or disposing of drinks, body fluids and other liquids.
The warning was issued by the hospital’s infection control department after isolates of pseudomonas, a potentially lethal “superbug”, were found in high-risk areas, including the intensive care unit. Pseudomonas was responsible for four deaths in neonatal units in Northern Irish hospitals last year.
Infection control staff identified indistinguishable samples of pseudomonas from adjacent beds in the hospital’s two intensive care units, suggesting cross- transmission between patients or between patients and staff.
In a follow-up email to medical staff, seen by The Irish Times, they warned that water outlets such as sinks could be contaminated and act as breeding grounds for the bug. “Inadvertently hands may be contaminated on hand-washing and in turn, vulnerable patients may be then exposed to risk of infection,” Toney Thomas, assistant director of nursing, warned.
According to guidelines circulated by Mr Thomas to staff, water systems can act as a source of infections such as pseudomonas and legionella.
He referred specifically to the outbreak of pseudomonas in the neonatal unit of Belfast’s Royal Maternity Hospital last year which resulted in the deaths of three babies. This was linked to water taps in the unit.
In particular, the risk of infection with potentially fatal legionella from humidifiers and nebulising equipment is very high if the equipment is not managed appropriately, the guidelines warn.
Staff have been told that clinical hand-washing facilities such as sinks must be dedicated for washing hands only. Other liquids such as the water from flower vases must be poured down a sluice. Humidifiers may not be shared between patients and should be disposed of after a week, while nebulisers are to be disposed of daily.
Pseudomonas-type bugs are very common and usually harmless. However, where contamination is not controlled, they can cause serious infections, particularly in the very young and the very old and other immune-compromised patients.