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Home Laundry No Match for Pathogen-Infected Scrubs

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, October 4, 2011

Halloween is four weeks away, but infectious disease researchers already have a scary story to tell. They say healthcare workers who wash their uniforms in domestic washing machines might not kill MRSA and other infectious organisms.

After washing their scrubs with detergent, they also may need to iron them to avoid carrying bugs such as Acinetobacter back to their patients.

This may not have been necessary in the past. But two events have altered the landscape on this topic, say John Holton and colleagues at the University College in London, whose report is published in the latest issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

First, changing standards that have lowered household water temperatures and constrain the use of water to save energy and resources "may influence the risk of nurses' uniforms being inadequately laundered" under home circumstances, they said.

And second, at least in the UK, many hospitals no longer provide in-house laundry service because of a "reorganization" of the National Health Service. Now, nurses launder their uniforms or scrubs at home or in public laundromats.

The researchers produced a table that showed the ability of a typical washing machine to reduce the presence of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Acinetobacter baumannii typically found on nurses' uniforms after one day of use. They examined a variety of temperatures and hot water exposure times from 86 degrees Fahrenheit and 10 minutes exposure to 194 degrees and 3 minutes exposure.

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