Role of Hospital Surfaces in the Transmission of Emerging Health Care-associated Pathogens: Norovirus, Clostridium Difficile, and Acinetobacter Species

Health care-associated infections (HAI) remain a major cause of patient morbidity and mortality. Although the main source of nosocomial pathogens is likely the patient’s endogenous flora, an estimated 20% to 40% of HAI have been attributed to cross infection via the hands of health care personnel, who have become contaminated from direct contact with the patient or indirectly by touching contaminated environmental surfaces. Multiple studies strongly suggest that environmental contamination plays an important role in the transmission of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus spp. More recently, evidence suggests that environmental contamination also plays a role in the nosocomial transmission of norovirus, Clostridium difficile, and Acinetobacter spp. All 3 pathogens survive for prolonged periods of time in the environment, and infections have been associated with frequent surface contamination in hospital rooms and health care worker hands. In some cases, the extent of patient-to-patient transmission has been found to be directly proportional to the level of environmental contamination. Improved cleaning/disinfection of environmental surfaces and hand hygiene have been shown to reduce the spread of all of these pathogens. Importantly, norovirus and C. difficile are relatively resistant to the most common surface disinfectants and waterless alcohol-based antiseptics. Current hand hygiene guidelines and recommendations for surface cleaning/disinfection should be followed in managing outbreaks because of these emerging pathogens.



David J. Weber, MD, MPH – a, b

William A. Rutala, PhD, MPH – a, b

Melissa B. Miller, PhD – c, d

Kirk Huslage, RN, BSN, MSPH – b

Emily Sickbert-Bennett, MS – b

a – Department of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC

b – Department of Hospital Epidemiology, UNC Health Care, Chapel Hill, NC

c – Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC

d – McLendon Laboratories, UNC Health Care, Chapel Hill, NC

Address correspondence to David J. Weber, MD, MPH, 2163 Bioinformatics, CB 7030, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7030.

© 2010 Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc. Published by Elsevier Inc All rights reserved.