As drug-resistant bacteria become more common, environmental services professionals are developing stringent protocols for room cleaning and hand washing to prevent patients from contracting these infections during hospital stays.

Bacteria can become immune to antibiotics when a person does not finish an entire course of antibiotics, or when a doctor prescribes them unnecessarily for a viral infection. According to, antibiotic resistance also arises in certain agricultural settings when farmers treat livestock indiscriminately with antibiotics, regardless of whether the animals are sick.

The resistant bacteria find their way into hospitals when people contract an infection and seek medical care. But perfectly healthy people can also act as carriers. About three to eight percent of people have a drug-resistant bacterial species, such as MRSA, which stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, somewhere in or on their bodies. These bacteria can be deadly if they come in contact with an open wound, or enter a patient whose immune system is suppressed by drugs or disease. People in long-term care facilities are especially at risk because they are often have insertable medical devices which can be openings to let in bacteria, as well as underlying health problems.

Hospitals have many ways to control the spread of bacteria around the hospital. Besides keeping catheters and IVs clean, and sterilizing wounds and surgical incisions, hospitals should also have meticulous daily cleaning regimens. Some also practice “terminal cleaning” after a patient leaves, to ensure that no residual bacteria are left behind.

After staff cleans a room, they use a black light and a special chemical that glows in the presence of cells. The chemical reacts with a molecule that is found in all types of cells – both human and bacterial – called ATP. If nothing lights up, then the cleaning crew can be certain that there are no infectious cells left behind.

Good hand hygiene is another vital aspect of infection control. Patients and visitors can play an active role in making sure that everyone is constantly washing their hands. In April, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a video campaign entitled “Hand Hygiene Saves Lives.” The video not only urges visitors to wash their hands, but also recommends that they ask doctors and nurses wash their hands each time they examine a patient. Patients are encouraged to prompt healthcare workers about hand washing.