Reusable protective eyewear may increase infection risk

Reusable protective eyewear can actually increase cross contamination and infection risk, according to a new study.

Published in the American Journal of Infection Control, the study was sponsored by TIDI Products, a manufacturer of single-use infection-prevention products for medical and dental markets (April 2014, Vol. 42:4, pp. 446-447).

Reusable eyewear, or eyewear with reusable components, may pose a risk of carrying ongoing bioburden, due to an inability to disinfect all surface details, and thereby may increase risk to operating room (OR) healthcare workers and patients, explained report author Victor Lange, MSPH.

The study investigated whether protective eyewear used in an OR setting can be a source of contact and cross contamination. The researchers collected eyewear used by OR personnel from 71 surgical cases performed in four operating rooms over a 30-day period. A total of 315 pieces of eyewear, comprised of 276 disposable and 39 reusable pieces, were isolated and cultured. After initial culturing, the reusable eyewear samples again were isolated, cleaned with a germicidal wipe according to the disinfection protocol, air-dried according to protocol, and then cultured again for contamination after disinfection.

Of them, 45% of the total sample cultured positive for contamination after use. The study found that 38% of disposable and 95% of reusable eyewear hosted microbial pathogens directly after use. And, after disinfection, 74% of the reusable eyewear remained contaminated with pathogens known to cause hospital-acquired infections. Stapylococcus colonies grew in 44% of samples, gram-positive cocci in 36%, Bacillus in 11%, diptheroids in 6%, and Micrococcus species in 4%.

Infectious agents are introduced to the eye either directly (e.g., via blood splashes, respiratory droplets generated during coughing, or suctioning) or from touching the eyes with contaminated fingers or other objects. Most guidelines and protocols suggest that protective eyewear be used based on anticipated exposure, and then be discarded or promptly decontaminated before reuse. Contamination, however, is not always visible, and disinfection practices are often unreliable and protective eyewear is often touched during the course of care, according to Lange.

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