Antibiotic resistant germs spread through washing machine in hospital

Antibiotic resistant germs spread through washing machine in hospital

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Washing machines can spread antibiotic-resistant germs

Antibiotic-resistant germs have recently been spread in a children's hospital using a washing machine. The clothes of the newborns were washed in this commercial washing machine, which is also used in private households.

Hygienists at the University of Bonn have demonstrated that antibiotic-resistant pathogens are spread through washing machines. According to a message, this proof was provided for a children's hospital in which a Klebsiella oxytoca type was transferred to newborns several times. Fortunately, there was no dangerous infection. The source was a commercial washing machine that was used to wash newborn clothes. This case attracts attention, especially since even in private households with people to be cared for, antibiotic-resistant bacteria could be transferred via the washing machine.

In the worst case, bacteria can lead to fatal sepsis

As stated in the message, the bacterium Klebsiella oxytoca was found in the newborn ward of a children's hospital in Germany during routine hygiene screenings. This bacterium can lead to gastrointestinal and respiratory infections and, in the worst case, fatal sepsis. According to the information, common antibiotics against this pathogen could only be used to a limited extent or not at all in this particular case.

After newborns were repeatedly populated with the dangerous germ and intensive hygiene intervention measures were unsuccessful, the hospital called on the Institute for Hygiene and Public Health (IHPH) at the University Hospital Bonn. "Fortunately, there were no dangerous infections in the babies," said Dr. Daniel Exner, hygiene officer for the clinic and polyclinic for general, visceral, thoracic and vascular surgery at the University Hospital Bonn.

In order to track down the source and possible distribution channels, environmental samples in the patient and staff area and suspected risk locations were compared with the samples of the newborns several times. "This type of Klebsiella oxytoca was so unique that it had not previously been recorded in this form in the database of the National Reference Center (NRZ) for Gram-negative hospital pathogens," explains Dr. Dr. Ricarda Schmithausen, head of the One Health department at IHPH. This peculiarity was an advantage, since it made it possible to clearly understand the distribution route. Neither parents nor the nursing staff had transmitted the bacteria.

Germs in the dishwasher and on the door rubber

"The Klebsiella oxytoca type was clearly evident in the sink and on the rubber door of a washing machine in the basement, with which the hand-knitted socks and hats of the babies were washed on the ward," explains Prof. Martin Exner, director of the Institute for Hygiene and Public Health at University hospitals Bonn. The germs were then transferred to the newborns via the clothes.

After the washing machine was removed, no further colonization of the premature babies was detected. "This clearly shows that we found the Klebsiella source," says Schmithausen. "It is a special case." In hospitals, special washing machines and washing processes are usually used, which wash at high temperatures and with disinfectants, or designated laundries process the laundry externally.

At the premature baby station, however, the slightly earlier case was a commercially available washing machine. "We decided to investigate this case in order to draw attention to possible problems with resistant bacteria, which are now spreading further into the home environment," said Schmithausen. The results of the experts have been published in the journal "Applied and Environmental Microbiology".

Wash laundry at higher temperatures

Previous studies have already described that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can nest in washing machines. "However, we have demonstrated for the first time that a washing machine can also transmit antibiotic-resistant germs to humans," explains Prof. Exner. This result also has consequences for the home, among other things, because for environmental reasons, the trend towards lower temperatures in conventional household machines is clearly below 60 degrees. In principle, this is a very positive development because it saves energy and protects the climate, according to the researchers.

If, however, elderly people in need of care with open wounds or bladder catheters or younger people with festering injuries or infections lived in the household, the laundry should be washed at higher temperatures - for example 60 degrees - to avoid the transmission of dangerous germs. In the eyes of hygienists, this is a growing challenge because the number of people in need of care in families is constantly increasing.

Resistant bacteria also in dishwashers

In addition to washing machines, dishwashers can also be infected with resistant bacteria. This is what researchers from the Faculty of Life Sciences at the Rhein-Waal University of Applied Sciences found out. In a message, they also said that higher washing temperatures can protect: "Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can withstand the usual washing conditions better than non-resistant strains, but higher temperatures and the use of detergents with oxygen bleach can safely remove these germs," ​​says Professor Dr. Dirk Bockmühl, professor of hygiene and microbiology at the Rhein-Waal University of Applied Sciences and head of the study that was published in the "Journal of Applied Microbiology". (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn: Washing machine spread antibiotic-resistant germs, (accessed: September 30, 2019), Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
  • Applied and Environmental Microbiology: The washing machine as a reservoir for transmission of extended spectrum beta-lactamase (CTX-M-15) -producing Klebsiella oxytoca ST201 in newborns, (access: September 30, 2019), Applied and Environmental Microbiology
  • Rhein-Waal University of Applied Sciences: Antibiotic-resistant pathogens in household appliances, (accessed: September 30, 2019), Rhein-Waal University of Applied Sciences
  • Journal of Applied Microbiology: Prevalence of β ‐ lactamase genes in domestic washing machines and dishwashers and the impact of laundering processes on antibiotic ‐ resistant bacteria, (accessed: September 30, 2019), Journal of Applied Microbiology

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