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Shared medical equipment could spread COVID-19 in long-term care homes: study

Last Updated Jul 31, 2020 at 3:57 pm PDT

Vancouver Coastal, as part of the study, collected samples at three long-term care homes during outbreaks of COVID-19 to better understand the extent to which environmental contamination occurs in long-term care settings. (Courtesy VCH, Twitter)
Summary

Shared medical equipment identified in a new study as having surfaces at risk of COVID-19 contamination in care homes

Vancouver Coastal Health replaced equipment after learning of study findings

Six of the 89 samples tested positive for the novel coronavirus

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Shared medical equipment has been identified in a new study as having surfaces at risk of COVID-19 contamination in long-term care homes.

Vancouver Coastal Health replaced equipment such as blood pressure cuffs with either disposable ones or dedicated items that are not shared between patients as soon as it learned of the study findings.

Vancouver Coastal, as part of the study, collected samples at three long-term care homes during outbreaks of COVID-19 to better understand the extent to which environmental contamination occurs in long-term care settings.

In all three facilities, the virus was detected on standard reusable blood pressure cuffs, for a total of four contaminated blood pressure cuffs of nine that were tested.

Eighty-nine surfaces were swabbed in all, including entrances, kitchens, staff communal areas, nursing stations, and care areas. Six of the 89 samples tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

“There hasn’t been a lot that’s been put out on environmental contamination,” said Dr. Michael Schwandt, who co-authored the study, published in the American Journal of Infection Control.

“We’ve learned a lot from reading about the experience with long-term care homes in other parts of the country and indeed around the world, so when we had some new information to share, we wanted to get that out into scientific literature as quickly as we could,” he said.

He added the shared items, because they are on the move, may escape the normal cleaning protocols.

“So even while stationary items need to be very clean, items that are moving between rooms, and might not be part of a cleaning rotation, seem to be at higher risk for becoming contaminated.”

Schwandt said most risks can be managed with stronger cleaning measures, which don’t cost much.

“This study was done in sites with known outbreaks where enhanced cleaning was already in place, so we would hope that the virus would not be present on medical equipment that is moved from room to room,” Dr. Atiba Nelson, lead author or the study, says in a release.

READ ALSO: B.C. on track for ‘explosive’ COVID-19 growth, says top doctor

“Although more research is needed to determine if this kind of contamination could contribute to transmission of the virus, it did highlight areas of concern.”

Other items testing positive for the virus include the handle of a mobile linen cart and the touch display of an electronic tablet used to collect medication records.

“The findings of the study have informed our response to long-term care outbreaks and highlight the need to be vigilant against COVID-19,” said Schwandt.

“Doing this type of research doesn’t just help us manage outbreaks now, it adds to the science on COVID-19 transmission so VCH and other health authorities have a better understanding of this new virus and so we can respond more effectively in the future.”

According to recent modelling data from the province, 60 per cent of the COVID-19 deaths in B.C. have involved long-term care homes. Another 12 per cent have been linked to acute care facilities.

Close to 20 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in the province have been connected to care facilities.