Using science to design healthcare-associated infections

This year’s theme for UK Science Week is ‘connections’ and throughout the week we look at how UKHSA science is carried out in collaboration with a wide range of organisations. In this blog, Ginny Moore, an expert in applied research in environmental microbiology, looks at our work to help hospitals prevent the spread of infections, which includes working with both hospital and academic partners.

An important part of the work we do at UKHSA is how infections spread in different environments. The ability to reduce the spread of infectious diseases is key to preventing outbreaks and keeping the public safe.

An obvious and vital place to study how infections can be transmitted is in hospitals.

Hospitals have strict measures to prevent infections, but in any place where there are a large number of patients in one place (some more vulnerable and prone to more serious illness than others), we must do everything we can to avoid infections; often called nosocomial or healthcare-associated infections.

UKHSA Science Fact File. Biosafety and the environment

One of our specialist opportunities at UKHSA has been investigating the role of the built environment in the transmission of infection.

This includes research to understand how microorganisms spread, whether in water, through the air or on surfaces, and using this knowledge to study and understand how actual outbreaks occur.

We are also conducting research to find out how to minimize or prevent the spread of infection.

In order to put in place the best possible advice and guidance to reduce healthcare-associated infections, we need to continue to study how micro-organisms (such as bacteria or viruses) move in areas such as hospital wards.

However, we obviously can’t go into a real hospital with live bacteria or a live virus to see how it spreads.

So what do you do if you need to research the exact conditions found on a hospital ward without putting anyone at risk? You build one, of course.

UKHSA has built a modular unit at our site in Porton Down, a bespoke research facility just for teaching purposes.

Our specialist facility includes single and multi-occupancy rooms, a negative pressure isolation room and support areas (such as a dirty utility room, laundry, kitchen and office), all built and designed in accordance with current UK guidelines that inform how realistic wards. are built.

The facility has special heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. There are also realistic water and drainage systems, as well as the same surfaces, fixtures, fittings and furnishings you would find in a real hospital room.

Creating a hospital ward that is as lifelike as possible ensures that we can better understand how microorganisms can live and spread in this environment.

The research facility allows us to carry out a number of vital activities and studies, such as:

  • Knowing how hospitals can best deal with the transmission of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.
  • Understanding how microorganisms are spread through the air, including through clinical activities and procedures that generate aerosols (activity that can result in the release of small particles or droplets into the air)
  • Examining running water and the germs that live in faucets, sinks, and showers.
  • Understanding how bacteria are easily transferred from surfaces to hands
  • Investigate how surfaces can be designed to make them easier to clean and the effectiveness of disinfectants used to clean them.

Previously, we had to rely on large-scale models to carry out such work (such as faucets, sinks and drainage systems), but the new department will help us take this work to the next level.

Our goal is to help “design” healthcare-associated infections by understanding all we can about strategies to prevent them in indoor smoke environments;

The department represents an exciting opportunity to continue this important work and is an excellent example of how UKHSA science is focused on practical real-world problems. As microbiologists, it is rewarding to know that the work we do informs frontline policy and practice and ultimately protects patients and healthcare professionals.

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