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Understanding Microfiber's Role in Infection Prevention

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The risks and challenges associated with hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are well known and emerging as a high-profile, high-priority public health issue. From the publication of the landmark study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) titled “To Err is Human: Building a Safer Healthcare System,” to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s 2002 data estimating 90,000 deaths from bacterial infection per year in U.S. hospitals, to the Aug. 11, 2008 issue of The New Yorker reporting the mechanism of antimicrobial resistance, professionals have been continually unraveling the complexities of ensuring that our healthcare system is truly a safe and clean environment. And while drug-resistant bacteria continue to evolve, or arrive from around the globe, the basics of preventing cross-transmission remain constant.

Patient-Care Challenges

One of the more challenging aspects of patient care is keeping important areas of a healthcare facility clean. No mission is more important than ensuring that a patient is not exposed to needless health dangers while in the care of the facility. And while preventable infection rates continue to be high, there have been dramatic developments in cleaning technologies that are proving to reduce and eliminate harmful bacteria from patient areas and other high-touch surfaces.

Microfiber has emerged as one of the most important technological developments for environmental services in this quest to prevent infections. It’s extremely important, however, to understand that there are many different types and qualities of microfiber on the market with vastly different capabilities in removing viruses, bacteria and spores from an environmental surface.

Microfiber, by definition, is any type of fiber with a diameter of less than 10 micrometers. Every item labeled “microfiber” does not constitute a superior cleaning product. Optimal bacterial, virus and spore removal is achieved through a type of material called “split microfiber.” This fiber is a blend of nylon (polyamide) and polyester that is extruded (like spaghetti). In the manufacturing process, the bonds between these two materials are chemically and mechanically split so that the fiber actually splits, or explodes, creating a web of ultra-fine filaments and microscopic pores. Split microfiber has a net positive charge and the ability to absorb up to eight times its weight in liquids.

In independent studies such as those published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)1 and by Dr. William Rutala,2 extremely fine (.37 micrometer diameter) microfiber was both laboratory and clinically tested and proven to remove up to 98 percent of bacteria and 93 percent of viruses from a surface using only water (no chemicals). In comparison, traditional cotton fibers have been shown to only remove 30 percent of the bacteria and 23 percent of the viruses from a contaminated environmental surface.

When most environmental services professionals speak of microfiber, they are usually referring to a flat mop floor cleaning system. These products are highly visible, are one-quarter the weight of traditional mops, and allow the housekeeper to effectively clean a room 40 percent faster than they could with an old-fashioned string mop system. There’s no doubt that the use of these systems result in a much cleaner floor. And they permit a one-pad-per-room practice, to address cross-transmission.

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