Pillow aims to halt spread of superbugs
AN IRISH company has invented a pillow that may help to reduce the risk of picking up a hospital-acquired infection (HAI) such as MRSA from lying on contaminated bedding.
Gabriel Scientific’s “SleepAngel” pillow was the subject of a clinical trial by Barts and the London NHS Trust, which found its product to be more hygienic than regular hospital pillows.
Several international studies have found that hospital bedding can harbour bacteria if they become contaminated with the bodily fluids of a patient who has an infection.
While regular washing is a standard infection-control measure in all Irish hospitals, the Barts study concluded that the risk of infection from bedding is “grossly underestimated in clinical practice”, and that regular cleaning may not be enough.
The inventors of the SleepAngel pillow, Billy Navan and David Woolfsen, both worked in the health industry and saw the problems caused by superbugs in Irish hospitals. They thought the risk of infection from pillows was being overlooked in hospital hygiene policies and spent nine years creating their infection-control pillow.
Most of that time was spent searching for a material that could keep germs out of the interior stuffing while still allowing the pillow to “breathe”. A membrane normally used in heart stents was incorporated into a specially designed filter.
During the Barts study, their product was put to work alongside standard NHS pillows in UK hospital wards. Both were used on cardiac, vascular and respiratory wards and tested after three months.
The results showed high levels of contamination in the standard pillows. Some had bacteria levels which were described by Dr Arthur Tucker, who led the study, as a “bio-hazard”. Dead skin, bodily fluids and dandruff found on the pillows made them a potential source of more than 30 types of infection ranging from flu to leprosy. The SleepAngel pillows tested negative for interior contamination and were much less likely to have bacteria on the outside.
There was also some unpleasant news about domestic pillows – apparently you are never alone in bed because after two years of use, one-third of a pillow’s weight is made up of dust mites, dead skin and bacteria.
Infection control has become a big challenge for hospitals in recent decades. Dr Brian O’Connell, medical director at the National MRSA Reference Laboratory in St James’s Hospital, explained that the superbug problem first surfaced in Ireland during the 1980s and quickly became “endemic” in some hospitals. Rates of infection have declined in the past few years but cross-infection still creates a huge extra workload for hospital staff and puts patients at risk.
Of real concern is stopping the spread of MRSA, a strain of the common Staphlococcus aureusbacteria that has developed resistance to antibiotics, making it difficult to treat. If the bacteria gets into the system through a break in the skin it can cause infections but, in more serious cases, can lead to life-threatening diseases.
The HSE Infection Control Action Plan estimates that about 25,000 in- patients develop a HAI every year in Ireland.
The cost of treating and preventing HAIs is €23 million per year and about one-third of infections are thought to be preventable.