Dublin team invents way to drive superbugs around the U-bend

System developed at dental hospital decontaminates wash basins and plumbing

 Numerous studies worldwide have linked outbreaks of bacterial infection in hospitals to contamination of wash basin drains and U-bends. Photograph: Getty Images

Numerous studies worldwide have linked outbreaks of bacterial infection in hospitals to contamination of wash basin drains and U-bends. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Scientists at Dublin Dental University Hospital have developed a new system of infection control in hospitals that literally drives superbugs around the bend.

Over the last two decades numerous studies worldwide have linked outbreaks of bacterial infection in hospitals to contamination of wash basin drains and U-bends. More recently, research has pointed to waste-water pipework as the reservoir for a number of highly antibiotic-resistant and potentially lethal bugs.

Severely ill patients and patients in high dependency units are particularly vulnerable to infection with these organisms.

Now a team from the dental hospital has developed an automated system for decontaminating wash basin drains and U-bends having field-tested the technology in the hospital’s clinics for six months.

The U-bends were coated with a dense film of microbes, including millions of bacteria. After treatment, bacterial levels were found to have been reduced by 99.9 per cent.

The system worked by automatically filling U-bends, drains and waste-water pipes from below for short periods with two electrochemically-activated salt-water solutions, delivered sequentially.

Study co-author Prof David Coleman said the system provided a consistently effective and safe means of ensuring wash basins were no longer reservoirs of contamination for infecting hospital patients.

Immense potential

“No other approach tested anywhere in the world is able to consistently achieve the level of microbial control we have managed. Our system has immense potential for widespread application in hospitals, and can easily be scaled to simultaneously decontaminate a few or hundreds of wash basins.”

The system is controlled by a computer, which can be programmed to operate when wash basins are not in use, such as at night.

The solutions used contain nothing more than salt, water and an electrical charge and so are non-hazardous and environmentally friendly.

The study has just been published in the Journal of Hospital Infection.