Specialty Fabrics Review December 2019 - 50

FOCUS

ADVANCED TEXTILES

In health-care settings, textiles can
act as mobile vectors of infectious
microorganisms, or microbes. There
is disagreement about how effective
microbe-reducing textiles are at
actually combating the spread of
microbes. This controversy partially
stems from how the antimicrobial
efficacy of textiles is determined and
how that translates to the medical
world. Photo: Dreamstime.

Fighting infection
New test methods are needed for medical textiles.
BY MATTHEW HARDWICK, PH.D.

T
Getting well or worse?
In American hospitals alone, the Centers
for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that
healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs),
also known as nosocomial infections,
account for an estimated 1.7 million
infections and 99,000 associated deaths
each year. Of these infections, 32
percent are urinary tract infections and
22 percent are surgical site infections.

he spread of infection is a concern for all of us, but nowhere is it more concerning than
in health care. The spread of infection both to and from medical environments is an
ever-present problem in hospitals and clinics around the world. Numerous resources
are being dedicated to fight the war against hospital-acquired infections. Health-care textiles,
including scrubs, lab coats and linens, are at the front line of this war against infected body
fluids and the spread of disease.
Health-care workers, primarily nurses, are in constant contact with many patients throughout
the day, but they rarely change their scrubs-generally only when visibly soiled. Therefore,
they may become a walking source of infectious material. Patient beds, sheets and blankets
are changed frequently, but may spread pathogens through the air during changing, or
through contact with other linens and equipment. Even privacy curtains present a danger
for the spread of infections.
Professionals in the textile world understand the potential role of textiles in preventing
the spread of infections. Antimicrobial active ingredients such as copper, silver, zinc and
quaternary ammoniums have been added to a variety of textiles in order to reduce microbial
contamination of health-care textiles. Further, other agents such as chlorine-binding and hydrophobic (fluid-resistant) chemistries have been added to these textiles to reduce the problem.
In health care, there is little question that textiles act as mobile vectors of infectious
microorganisms, or microbes; however, there is considerable controversy about how effective
microbe-reducing textiles are at actually combating the spread of microbes. This controversy
stems from how we determine antimicrobial efficacy of textiles and how that translates to
the medical world.
ANTIBACTERIAL TEXTILE TESTING
The first topic to address is the difference between "antibacterial" and "antimicrobial."
Antimicrobial implies that a technology works against all microbes, including bacteria and
fungi (and viruses to a lesser extent). Much of the testing performed on "antimicrobial"
textiles in health care is actually antibacterial. While fungi, such as Candida species, are an
important concern in health care, bacterial species, such as Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus)
and Escherichia coli (E. coli), are far more prevalent.
Although I have used antimicrobial to describe these chemistries (indeed, they are generally
effective against bacteria and fungi, and viruses, in some instances), health-care textiles are

50 REVIEW DECEMBER 2019



Specialty Fabrics Review December 2019

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