The Need for Antimicrobial Clothing in Health Care Settings
According to the Centers for disease control and prevention (CDC) in their March 2016 update on infection prevention, HAIs aka Health Care Associated Infections kill over 75,000 people a year and infect over 722,000 patients during their hospital stay. What are HAIs? Ever heard of MRSA, Staph, E-Coli or Pneumonia? Ever heard of a friend's loved one being admitted in a hospital for something small like a toe infection, only to find that they ended up staying in the hospital for 3 months, or worse yet…. never leave? What if I was to tell you that some of those deaths and infections could have been prevented? And it doesn’t involve aggressive hand washing techniques or more latex gloves...no - it comes down to the actual clothing the health care workers are wearing.
Yes, Health Care Workers clothing is a contributor to the spread of hospital infections, which is why health care organizations should mandate and provide their staff with Antimicrobial uniforms in order to counter this serious problem.
I’d like to unpack this antimicrobial initiative in greater detail by sharing 3 points.
- We’ll go over some clinical studies proving that health care workers do indeed harbor harmful bacteria on their uniforms
- The vehicle or cause that is driving the spread of infection is the evolution of resistant bacteria to our overuseage of traditional antibiotics.
- Get you up to speed on recent innovations in fabric technology that can fight these life threatening germs as a solution to the problem.
Health Care Organizations are missing the mark on isolating a key vector in the spread of harmful bacteria.
Health Care Professionals are rigorously instructed, trained and advised to aggressively wash their hands before, during and after their patient interaction for one minute per washing cycle, in accordance with new 2014 CDC guidelines to avoid contaminating their patients, but no attention is made to the clothing they are wearing.
In a 2011 study published by the American Journal for Infection Control, where they collected 238 scrubs from 175 hospital personnel consisting of nurses and physicians before and after their shift, they concluded that “Up to 60% of hospital staff's uniforms are colonized with potentially pathogenic bacteria, including drug-resistant organisms.” Based on their findings.
Similar studies like this have been conducted numerously within the last decade and the results are all the same. But don’t take my word, or even the peer reviewed findings - look for yourself, just google “health care + contamination + clothing + mrsa” and see for yourself.
In the past 6 years, even with all the leaps and bounds made with medical technology and heightened standards on hand washing techniques, there has only been a 6% decrease in Health Care Associated Infections, per that above mentioned March 2016 CDC report.. Meaning more has to be done.
Hospitals do not provide medical scrubs to all their employees.
Yes, hospitals do provide scrubs for OR personnel and L&D staff but that’s because they work in sterile environments. My eleven years working in multiple emergency departments as a clinical care Paramedic, I always had to buy my own scrubs from independent retailers - and they were $60-80.00 a set. Furthermore, there were no private locker rooms to get undressed and redressed, as we so commonly see in TV and film, so I would wear my scrubs to work and wear them home, and I would launder them myself. But because of my busy 13+ hr shifts, it would happen, more often than i’d like to admit, that I would wear the same scrubs for two, sometimes 3 days in a row without washing.
With that said, if permanent antimicrobial protection was offered in all scrub uniforms, then it would reduce a significant cross contamination liability that would take minimal effort to implement... all the healthcare worker needs to do is wear their uniform. Simple.
I’ve given you some insight to the problems contributing to the spread of HAIs but now I’ll discuss why we can’t get a foothold on the bacteria because of our over prescribed antibiotic use.
Antibiotics are prescribed more heavily than in the history of medicine.
When was the last time any of you have been prescribed penicillin? Most likely, never, or maybe when you were a little child but there is a reason it is not being prescribed as regularly than it used too, in fact, in the healthcare community it’s considered obsolete.
An October 2009 health and science article published by CNN interviewed Dr Kathleen Halloway, clinical Director of the World Health Organization, told CNN that “penicillin is becoming obsolete in some developing countries, as well as in France, Spain and Romania, because of over-prescription by doctors and pharmacists. He said the emergence of "superbugs" such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is causing the growing problem of hospital-acquired infections.”
Because bacteria is a living organism, it evolves when it is threatened by extinction. Due to this reaction, it is sky rocketing our antibiotic costs because we have to continuously develop new antibiotics to keep up with their resistance. In fact, based on an August 2015 CBS Money Watch article on antibiotic prices, it stated that most generic antibiotic costs increased by 50% since 2013 due the resistance issue.
Now let’s discuss the solution.
Incredible breakthroughs have been made within the last 10 years in the textile industry as a result of the growing need for active and performance wear clothing - particularly with the natural antimicrobial effects of embedding silver within the fabric.
It’s what helped put lululemon on the map today.
lululemon was the first athleisure wear company to incorporate silver thread within their clothing line called Silverescence in 2006 in order to fight odor causing bacteria. They partnered with a biotech company that made the special silver yarn. In 2009 the company gained tremendous traction when the word started to spread about their “get the funk out” anti odor campaign, according to a September 2015 article by Business insider.
As a result, this innovation inspired many other biotech companies to follow suit and the ability to incorporate a silver embedded thread within a fabric is relatively simple. The greatest benefit about a silver thread is that it lasts the lifetime of a garment, and it is clinically proven to kill HAIs with a 99% efficiency based on studies conducted at the University of Arizona unlike antimicrobial finishes, it does not was out.
Why isn’t this technology in healthcare workers uniforms?
Because of the general public's misconception about hospitals providing uniforms for their staff, no significant efforts have been made to mass produce a scrub uniform in order to make it affordable, nor to create a scrub brand that the general public can recognize and trust.
Which is why, over the last 2 years, I've worked with some of the best textile and sportswear designers to develop the world’s first Silver Embedded Antimicrobial High Performance Uniform called, FIT Scrubs®. (FIT stands for Functional Integrated Technology) Our scrubs fabric has been lab tested and shown to kill odor causing bacteria, mildew and fungus with a 99.9% kill effectiveness. In fact, we took it a step further and found that it's antimicrobial properties are so strong that they kill MRSA, Staph and Pneumonia bacteria.
In a nutshell, the healthcare infection epidemic is infecting 1 in 25 hospital patients, the cause of it’s progression through overprescribed antibiotic use and a solution to counter the problem is through fabric technology.
I’ve dedicated my entire working professional life to help the injured and save lives. I’ve done this as a Military Medic, a Paramedic and a medical instructor for over 15 years. The bottom line is that when I’m finished working on that patient, i know the odds are against them when it comes to their recovery because of the seriousness of HAIs. Together, we can truly make a difference in changing this outdated healthcare model by supporting protective clothing for our health care workers.
Arthur W. Lucero
Founder | Paramedic | Director of Product Development
3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21864762 (health care uniforms mrsa)