Health care facilities everywhere have been ramping up their disinfection practices in order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. However, when it comes to hospital mattresses, one of the biggest vectors for spreading deadly bugs, efforts are still falling short.
With health care workers using chemicals that are intended for dry surfaces, the mattresses are harboring pathogens such as Clostridium difficile (C. diff), and, as Edmond A. Hooker, MD, DrPH, professor in the Department of Health Administration at Xavier University, pointed out at the 5th Annual International C. diff Awareness & Health Expo, regulatory agencies seem to have “turned a blind eye” to the issue.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released a notice on how to keep hospital mattress covers safe.
In this notice, the FDA notes safety concerns regarding hospital mattress covers, particularly that over time they can “wear out and allow blood and body fluids to penetrate and get trapped inside mattresses.” They added, “If blood or body fluids from one patient penetrate and get absorbed in a mattress, the fluids can leak out the next time the mattress is used.” If that happens, the next patient runs the risk of coming into contact with these fluids, and thus, becoming infected with pathogens from the bed’s previous occupants.
The FDA reports that this is not the first time they acknowledged these concerns; they released a safety communication in 2013 to make health care workers aware of the issue. However, the problem of contaminated hospital mattresses persists.
“There is no question there has been report after report after report of, ‘We had this outbreak. We killed all these people.’ There was just a report that came out on 18 people who were sick in a French hospital; they were on beds manufactured here in America, and 4 people were killed before they finally realized that it was the mattresses. They took all of the mattresses out of service and stopped the outbreak,” Dr. Hooker told Contagion ® in an exclusive interview.
“There’s a reason that it’s an under reported problem; hospitals don’t want to say, ‘Hey, we just killed a bunch of people. We kill 29,000 people a year with C. difficile infections. Do you hear that? I mean, that’s like crashing a plane every day and we do nothing about it. We just act like it didn’t happen.”
In an effort to address the issue, the FDA has released recommendations based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for environmental infection control in health care facilities; they include:
- Develop an inspection plan for all hospital mattresses and mattress covers in the facility. Learn the time of life for all mattresses/mattress covers by checking the manufacturer’s guidelines; follow any other recommendations that the manufacturers list. If you have any additional questions, contact the mattress manufacturer.
- Inspect each hospital mattress for visible signs of damage, which can include: cuts, tears, cracks, pinholes, snags, or stains. On a routine basis, remove mattress covers and check the inside. With the cover removed, check the mattress for wet spots, staining, or other signs of damage. Be sure to check all sides of the mattress as well as underneath. You will not be able to effectively inspect the mattress with the cover on.
- Remove any mattresses that are damaged, appear worn, or are visibly stained and immediately replace any mattress covers that are damaged.
- Maintain your mattresses and mattress covers by cleaning and disinfecting them “according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.” DO NOT stick needles into the hospital mattress through the cover, the FDA stresses.
“The FDA notice about mattress failures is an important first step. However, much more needs to be done. Most failures are not being reported to FDA, and the 700 reports that they have represents an industry-wide problem. Up to one-third of hospital mattresses currently in service in hospitals have failed. Also, the ones that have not failed are not being cleaned,”
Dr. Hooker stressed to Contagion ® in a follow-up interview. “These mattresses quickly get fissures and microscopic cracks that allow bacteria to remain on the surface during terminal cleaning. The next patient is then exposed to those bacteria and gets a hospital-acquired infection. The CDC needs to mandate better cleaning practices nationwide, which they can do.
The CDC needs to also mandate inspection of every mattress after every patient. Damaged mattresses should be removed from service immediately.”
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