Nurse Stations Assist in Study to Track Microbe Spread

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As all nurses know, microscopic organisms are everywhere and can move around very easily, especially in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other medical facilities. In fact, they can lurk everywhere, from nurse stations to medical equipment to the patients themselves. These microbes are more than mere nuisances, though. Research suggests that, collectively, the microbiome may affect a wide range of health-related issues, from a person’s weight to his or her susceptibility to diseases.

Recently, researchers found a unique opportunity to study how microbes spread from person to person and ultimately affect a larger community. The study, which took place at the Center for Care and Discovery at the University of Chicago, required nurses to play a key role. Discover how nurse stations assisted in tracking the spread of microbes and learn what the study reveals about bacterial diversity in a communal environment.

What Makes This Microbiome Study Unique

Image via Flickr by SIM USA

While Popular Science reports that most prior microbiome studies have focused on the types of microbes that individuals host, this University of Chicago study instead centered on a larger community. Organizing such a study often poses substantial challenges. Most environments already host countless microbes, making it difficult to develop a study that effectively tracks the movement of these microscopic organisms. Because the Center for Care and Discovery at the University of Chicago was newly built, however, it effectively offered a blank slate for researchers to study microbes.

To track microbe movement and better understand how these organisms colonize, scientists started the study two months prior to the building’s official opening. During this time, they collected samples from the surfaces, air, and water in the Center for Care and Discovery. Many of the samples came from patient rooms and nurse stations. Once the building opened and both patients and staff members inhabited the building, the study continued for an additional 10 months.

During this 10-month period, nurses played a key role in the study. Scientists took frequent samples from the surfaces of nurse stations and from the skin of staff nurses to assess how bacteria moved through the new hospital and impacted patients.

What This Study Reveals About Microbe Movement

Over the course of 12 months, scientists collected over 10,000 samples from more than 250 patients, nurses, and from the hospital environment itself. After analyzing the samples, the results of the year-long study, which is one of the largest to focus on the microbiome, both confirm what scientists suspected and reveal some illuminating surprises about how microbes operate.

Because hospital staff thoroughly disinfect patient rooms before new patients occupy them, scientists were not surprised to learn that immediately after being sanitized, samples from these rooms mostly revealed bacteria from the nurses on staff. Subsequent sampling revealed more surprising results, though.

Ultimately, scientists found that the bacterial communities on patients’ skin strongly resembled the microbiome of the room. While bacteria tended to move from the rooms’ surfaces to the patients’ skin during the first 24 hours of the patients’ visits, the movement reversed soon after, the Chicago Tribune reports. Through continued sampling, scientists found that microbes soon stopped moving from the environment to the patients. Instead, the patients’ microbiome began to take over the room.

In most cases, scientists found that patients’ microbiomes occupied their rooms for the entirety of their stays at the Center for Care and Discovery. According to Popular Science, receiving antibiotics by intravenous methods did not impact the bacterial makeup of the room. Receiving topical antibiotics, however, did have the potential to reverse microbes’ movement patterns.

As Science reports, the researchers used data from nurse stations and patient rooms to draw additional conclusions. For instance, scientists found high levels of bacteria that cause diphtheria, pneumonia, and other dangerous diseases throughout the surfaces of nurse stations. Patient bedrails also tended to reveal high levels of bacterial contamination even after a standard disinfection session.

However, scientists’ analysis of the samples they collected shows that these bacteria did not cause the infections that about 20 patients developed during their stays. Instead, this study suggests that the patients may have arrived already bearing the infection-causing bacteria, which ran its course during the patients’ stays. This finding could dramatically change the way medical teams think about hospital-acquired infections and how they maintain patient environments.

How This Study Could Impact Scientists’ Approach to the Microbiome

While medical teams will undoubtedly continue to sterilize patient rooms to keep lingering germs at bay, they may begin to focus their efforts away from improving disinfection methods. Instead, as Science suggests, nurses may consider treating patients before they enter the hospital environment. By providing patients with probiotics prior to a hospital stay, nurses may be able to decrease harmful bacteria and reduce the chances of patients developing hospital-acquired infections.

As the Chicago Tribune explains, scientists may also use the results of this study to inform more in-depth research into bacterial infections and antibiotic resistance among hospital patients. Because this study revealed that patients with longer stays left behind more robust strains of bacteria that could more easily infect hosts and better resist treatment, clinical researchers can use this data to explore how hospitals can prevent infections.

In addition, medical teams may be able to use the results from the Hospital Microbiome Project to improve their understanding of how bacteria move through a hospital environment via patients and staff. With additional research, medical teams may even be able to apply this newfound knowledge of the way microbes colonize and move to other environments and applications. Using the Hospital Microbiome Project to map a community’s microbiome could help medical teams prevent the spread of infection and treat patients more effectively.

As microbiome research continues to evolve, nurses may play an increasingly important role in clinical research. If you are working to become an advanced practice nurse, your work will likely take you to the forefront of patient health and wellness. To learn more about advancing your nursing education, learn more about Maryville University’s innovative online BSN to DNP program.

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