Electronic Faucets More Likely to be Contaminated With High Levels of Bacteria

Electronic faucets are meant to reduce water consumption and recontamination of hands in the hospital setting, but they are more likely to become contaminated with high levels of bacteria compared with traditional manually operated faucets, according to investigators.

“Differences in bacterial contamination that we found persisted despite sterilization of the hospital water supply,” Emily Sydnor, MD, infectious disease fellow at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said during a telebriefing in advance of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America 2011 Annual Scientific Meeting. “We also found concentrated growth of bacteria on the valves and internal components of the electronic-eye faucets, suggesting that these areas provided surface area for increased bacterial growth and biocell formation that likely led to contamination of the water.”

The investigators collected water samples from 20 manual faucets and 20 newly installed electronic faucets at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine between Dec. 15, 2008, and Jan. 29, 2009. They then assessed Legionella spp. and heterotrophic plate count cultures and the efficacy of chlorine dioxide remediation in the water from the contaminated faucets. All faucets received water from the same source.

Compared with 50% of cultures from electronic faucets, 15% of cultures from manual faucets tested positive for Legionella spp. Furthermore, significant growth on heterotrophic plate count cultures were found in 26% of electronic faucets with more than 500 colony-forming units/mL vs. 13% of manual faucets.

After chlorine dioxide remediation, 14% of electronic faucet cultures and 3% of manual faucet cultures remained contaminated with Legionella spp.; 29% of electronic faucet cultures and 7% of manual faucet cultures had heterotrophic plate count growth.

According to the investigators, significant bacteria growth occurred on the hot water check valves before and after chlorine remediation.

“We did not directly correlate risk for infection with contamination of electronic-eye faucets; however, they may pose a risk for health care-associated infection,” Sydnor told O&P Business News’ sister publication Infectious Disease News. “In order to minimize the risk for health care-associated infections, infection control teams should evaluate existing electronic-eye faucets for bacterial contamination and consider removal and/or not installing them in clinical areas where at-risk patients may be exposed.” — by Ashley DeNyse

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