After inspections at a children’s hospital revealed 13 newborns and one baby have been carrying the superbug Klebsiella oxytoca, an urgent investigation discovered that a washing machine on the same floor was responsible.
Researchers recognized traces of the pathogen on the surfaces and leftover water from the washing machine. The microorganism appeared to have been passed on through the knitted hats and socks that went by the machine; this stuff was used to maintain the babies warm.
Fortunately, none of the children fell critically ill; however, it’s a reminder of the necessity for strict guidelines and standards relating to cleaning clothes and other objects, mainly where sick and vulnerable people are involved.
As soon as the washing machine was removed from the floor, the K. oxytoca colonization went away. The case study assumes that the final cold water rinse, which does not use detergent, might have allowed the microorganism to thrive. The humidity present in the hospital rooms, allowing residual water to condense on the rubber seal of the door, probably did not assist either.
As Schmithausen points out that the machine in question did not meet present Germany hygienic standards for hospital use, but it was technically located outside the main laundry room, and only used for mothers’ clothes and baby knitwear.
It is not clear exactly how the K. oxytoca arrived in the washing machine in the first place, however at least in this case; the results were minimal. An infection with this superbug may cause gastrointestinal and respiratory issues and even death. There are few antibiotics left that can use against it.
After all, superbug risks at a hospital are markedly different from what you may anticipate in your own home. Low-temperature cycles are still ideally excellent for regular laundry, so long as you follow the washing instructions on your clothes.
However, this case does show we might need to look into changes in washing machine design and processes to prevent these devices from harboring superbugs, especially where sick patients are involved – and that applies to homes in addition to hospitals.