Unlikely Places Germs Hide: Contamination in Hospitals and Nursing Homes

Article Categories: Diseases & Environment


They are deadly, unrelenting, and become more difficult to kill by the day. We never see them with the naked eye, but we know they are there (and everywhere), because patients get new infections while receiving hospital treatment or being cared for in nursing homes.

Here’s the proof: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 648,000 patients every year acquire an infection during their hospital stay, and about 75,000 of these patients die. This fact only means that the bugs' existence in so-called unlikely places is real.

Nursing assistants play an important role in preventing the spread of microorganisms as they move between clean and dirty places in their day-to-day work. If you are a CNA, let the following be an eye-opener for you.

It is common knowledge that the ground and toilet are teeming with bad microorganisms. But in hospitals and nursing homes, nursing assistants should also be careful about other places germs hide:

1. Water

Where there’s moisture, microorganisms tend to multiply.

There are bacteria called Legionella that causes Legionnaire’s disease, a pneumonia-like illness where patients experience cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle pains, and headaches. Legionellae tend to grow in warm water and are spread through inhaled mist or contaminated water that accidentally gets into the lungs.

According to an article from the CDC regarding Legionairre's disease, nursing assistants should think about these places where legionella bacteria are found:

a. Shower rooms and sinks
b. Cooling towers or structures that spray mist to cool the air
c. Hot tubs that remain undrained after each use
d. Indoor and outdoor fountains and other water features
e. Hot water tanks and heaters
f. Large plumbing systems

Fungi, such as those that cause fusariosis, an opportunistic mold infection, were also found in showerheads, sink drains, and sink faucet aerators.

Softened water that is used in hemodialysis, where a patient's blood is run through a machine to be filtered, also tend to harbor bacteria.

In some cases, ice and ice machines, flower vases, and even children's water gun toys have been found to be contaminated.

2. Touch surfaces

Healthcare workers such as nurses and CNAs often touch patients as a normal part of their daily routine, moving between places within the hospital or nursing homes. Patients and staff continually touch common surfaces. These surfaces become breeding grounds for microorganisms:

a. Bedside table
b. Call buttons
c. Bed rails
d. Door handles
e. Hard charts
f. Nurse station desktops
g. Countertops
h. Computer keyboards
i. Telephones

3. Shared equipment

When instruments or pieces of equipment are taken from one patient to another, germs can transfer that way, too. As a CNA, you are using digital tympanic thermometers, adhesive tapes, tape measures, and other supplies that are carried around, which are not regularly decontaminated. They are also potential carriers of harmful germs.

Microorganisms easily spread in healthcare settings because patients come and go frequently, and their germs are passed on as healthcare workers take turns caring for them. Without practicing infection control, these bacteria, viruses, and fungi spread and multiply, causing infections in patients who have weak immune systems. CNAs must not be complacent in thinking that “looking clean” means germ-free. On the contrary, they should be aware of seemingly harmless ways infectious microorganisms can be acquired.


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