By Matthew Stenning, Director Medical Scientific and Laboratory Services at Pall Corporation
The COVID-19 pandemic tested the limits of the healthcare system. Scenes of hospital wards overburdened with COVID-19 cases have become a familiar image to people around the world. As virus rates and the number of people being treated in healthcare facilities drop, hospitals are beginning to return to pre-pandemic operations including resuming routine appointments and non-urgent treatments that were delayed.
Although COVID-19 has dominated healthcare in 2020, getting people back on track with routine appointments and non-urgent treatment is a critical factor to protect public health. It’s imperative that measures are taken to ensure healthcare facilities resume normal practice in as safe a way as possible. Central to this is recognizing a threat looming in the fabric of hospitals themselves.
The large and complex water systems in hospitals and healthcare facilities are a recognized significant possible cause of healthcare-associated infections which can pose a risk to the health of patients. Water and wet environments can promote the growth of microorganisms and harbor waterborne pathogens that can lead to infections. These include Legionella pneumophila, the cause of Legionnaires’ disease, which had a rise in cases in the United States in the last year; Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a major cause of infections including wound, skin, pneumonia and sepsis; and non-tuberculous mycobacteria.
These pathogens can be passed onto patients through aspiration and inhalation of water droplets, through direct contact including through water used in wound care or in indirect contact through contamination of medical devices including catheters and drains. They can also be passed through water dispensers used directly by patients. When these pathogens come to face to face with patients who are already in ill health or susceptible to infection, the outcome can be fatal.
The risk of pathogens being formed in water systems and passed onto vulnerable patients is greater given the current circumstances. Many hospitals and healthcare facilities adjusted operations in 2020 to deal with the impact of the pandemic, including changing the function of certain wards to accommodate cases of the virus and building temporary facilities to treat patients. Because actions had to be taken quickly in response to COVID-19, there is a risk that not all necessary precautions to manage water systems and prevent the outbreak of waterborne infections were taken.
In addition, hospitals have closed off certain areas and facilities, including those used for routine appointments and non-essential treatments. Months of reduced occupancy and lack of water usage in these areas have the potential to cause microbial deterioration of water quality and increase the risk of waterborne pathogens which can lead to infections and diseases. As wards are reopened and the water supply used for the first time in months, pathogens in the system – including Legionella – can exist in high concentrations and lead to contaminations.
It’s essential that in resuming normal practice post-pandemic, healthcare facilities take the necessary precautions and measures to prevent release of waterborne pathogens and adopt a proper water management program to protect the health of patients.
In the United States, Pall Point-of-Use Water Filters are FDA 510(k) Cleared Class II Medical Devices* for faucets, showers and ice machines and can prevent patient exposure to waterborne pathogens and may aid in infection control. Point-of-Use Water Filters can be used as part of a water management program as an additional control measure, providing a barrier to waterborne pathogen transmission.
Pall-AquasafeTM and Pall QPoint® Disposable Water Filters contain 0.2 micron sterilizing grade filter membranes and are indicated to remove bacteria, protozoa, fungi, and particles from the incoming water by acting as a physical barrier to common waterborne pathogens.
When incorporated into a proper water management routine – including efficient hygiene, regular flushing and maintenance of hot and cold water temperatures – water filters can work to safeguard the health of patients, improve the performance of hospital facilities and ultimately reduce costs for the healthcare system.
As we emerge from the pandemic and look to return to life as normal, the efficient operation of our healthcare system and protection of public health is paramount. Prevention of healthcare-associated infections is central to this.
*Pall Water Filters are considered general hospital equipment and are not regulated as medical devices in the EU.