A fascinating article appeared in the November 2, 2015, edition of The Wall Street Journal. Entitled, Benefits of Bleach: A Hospital Adopts a Grandmother’s Preferred Germ Killer, the piece describes a major medical center’s efforts to control the scourge of hospital-acquired infection, as well as the magnitude of the problem (one in 25 hospitalized patients develops an infection every day according to the CDC, some with multi-drug resistant organisms). Together with reducing the overuse of antibiotics, frequent hand washing, and other sanitary measures, center personnel use bleach to clean surfaces in an attempt to help stem the tide of contagion. What is old sometimes becomes new again.
The problem with these various approaches, however, is that they require ongoing training, coordination between various departments, and physical labor. So while these are good procedures, they aren’t always precisely followed. In some instances, hospitals also purchase costly machines to help control surface contamination by bacteria, fungi and viruses. All too often the contraptions sit in a corner, unused because they can only be activated once a patient has been discharged from their room, and the time and energy required to use them often interferes with admitting the next patient.
Part of the multifaceted approach to preventing hospital-acquired infections should be the use of proven antimicrobial agents, including silver and copper, in soft and hard surfaces to provide continuous protection against microbial colonization. Research suggests that this approach is both safe and effective, and requires no additional training or labor from staff once installed. Protection persists even after cleaning with Clorox and peroxide.
The ancient Greeks and Romans placed silver coins in their water and food containers as a means of effective disinfection. Indeed, what is very old sometimes becomes new again.
Russell H. Greenfield, M.D.
Clinical Professor of Medicine
UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine