Those exceptionally virulent, drug-resistant bacterial strains known as “superbugs” that increasingly threaten hospital patients around the world just became a whole lot more menacing. A new study published in the journal Building and Environment reveals that the deadly critters are capable of spreading not only through direct contact but also through the air, which means individuals may be able to get infected just by breathing contaminated air.
To arrive at this shocking conclusion, a team of researchers from Leeds University in the U.K. created a heated mannequin intended to resemble a human body, and injected the mannequin with tiny droplets of Staphylococcus aureus, which is closely related to the methicillin-resistant variety more commonly known as MRSA. They then triggered the mannequin to begin breathing out the bacteria as a human would, during which time they measured the spread of the bug at various test points around a hospital room.
Upon analysis, the team found that the highest levels of contamination with S. aureus were in the area immediately surrounding the mannequin, as can be expected. But varying levels of the strain were also found nearly 12 feet away from the mannequin, which suggests that deadly superbugs may be capable of spreading significant distances via the air, and infecting others, particularly hospital staff and other patients.
“The level of contamination immediately around the patient’s bed was high, but you would expect that. Hospitals keep beds clean and disinfect the tables and surfaces next to beds,” said Dr. Cath Noakes, lead author of the study. “However, we also captured significant quantities of bacteria right across the room, up to 3.5 meters away and especially along the route of the airflows in the room. We now need to find out whether this airborne dispersion is an important route of spreading infection.”
The next step for the Leeds team is to use computer modeling to map the potential spread of superbugs in order to determine their airborne risk. Their findings will then be used to optimize the design of future hospital buildings, hospital room layouts, and medical equipment to minimize risk and impede the spread of bacteria and superbugs.
“Using our understanding of airflow dynamics, we can now use these models to investigate how different ward layouts and different positions of windows, doors, and air vents could help prevent microorganisms being deposited on accessible surfaces,” added Marco-Felipe King, a Ph.D. student who helped design the test room for the study.
daily alternative | alternative news – Airborne transmission: Why the superbug epidemic may be more serious that we previously thought