If you’re using an energy-efficient function on your washing machine, it could become a reservoir of multidrug-resistant pathogens.
This is because lower temperatures used in ‘energy saver’ washing machines may not be killing all pathogens.
For the first time ever, investigators have identified a washing machine as a reservoir of multidrug-resistant pathogens.
Pathogens transmitted to newborns
The pathogens, a single clone of Klebsiella oxytoca, were transmitted repeatedly to newborns in a neonatal intensive care unit at a German children’s hospital.
The clothes that transmitted K. oxytoca from the washer to the infants were knitted caps and socks to help keep them warm in incubators, as newborns can quickly become cold, even in incubators.
The transmission was stopped only when the washing machine was removed from the hospital.
Fortunately, the infants were not infected by K. oxytoca because either they have not yet invaded tissues where they can cause disease or because the babies’ immune system is effectively repelling them.
“This is a highly unusual case for a hospital, in that it involved a household type washing machine,” said first author Ricarda M. Schmithausen, PhD. Hospitals normally use special washing machines and laundry processes that wash at high temperatures and with disinfectants, according to the German hospital hygiene guidelines, or they use designated external laundries.
All households could be affected
The research has implications for household use of washers, said Dr. Schmithausen, Senior Physician, Institute for Hygiene and Public Health, WHO Collaboration Center, University Hospital, University of Bonn, Germany.
Water temperatures used in home washers have been declining, to save energy, to well below 60°C (140°F), rendering them less lethal to pathogens.
Resistance genes, as well as different microorganisms, can persist in domestic washing machines at those reduced temperatures, according to the report.
What you can do to protect your family
Protecting your family is as simple as turning up the heat.
“If elderly people requiring nursing care with open wounds or bladder catheters, or younger people with suppurating injuries or infections live in the household, laundry should be washed at higher temperatures, or with efficient disinfectants, to avoid transmission of dangerous pathogens,” said Martin Exner, MD, Chairman and Director of the Institute for Hygiene and Public Health, WHO Collaboration Center, University Hospital/University of Bonn. “This is a growing challenge for hygienists, as the number of people receiving nursing care from family members is constantly increasing.”
The study also implies that changes in washing machine design and processing are required to prevent the accumulation of residual water where microbial growth can occur and contaminate clothes.
Source: American Society for Microbiology via www.sciencedaily.com
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