Preventing healthcare-associated infections

Posted 14 Feb 2022

Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are one of the most common, significant and preventable complications affecting patients.

Each year, an estimated 165,000 Australians acquire a HAI, which can contribute to longer hospital stays, illness or disease.

Water has been described as the most underestimated, overlooked and yet controllable source of HAIs. Although water sources used in hospitals are commonly disinfected, biofilms (slime) forming in water pipelines provide the ideal environment for bacteria that survive.

Associate Professor Harriet Whiley has received a Flinders Foundation Health Seed Grant to determine how microbial contamination is formed in the plumbing of hospital hand basins, and if patients can be exposed to microbes in these biofilms via aerosols generated through handwashing.

“This study addresses a current knowledge gap in understanding the role of water as a source of HAIs,” A/Prof Whiley said.

“It is hypothesised that pathogens present on the hands of patients or staff may contaminate basin faucets directly, or indirectly, but there is limited research investigating the mechanism of transfer.

“In this study, we will use a unique hand basin model to examine the potential transfer of disease-causing microbes from patients and staff to plumbing biofilms, and vice versa.”

A/Prof Whiley’s research at Flinders University will benefit patients by informing improved infection control protocols for managing plumbing biofilms formed on hospital hand basins and, ultimately, reducing the incidence of HAIs.

Research category: Public Health

Project title: Controlling biofilm to prevent healthcare associated infections

Lead researcher: A/Prof Harriet Whiley


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