Solving a Microbial Issue at a Macro Level: How Surfaces Support Biofilm Formation

by Mar 7, 2023Cleaning & Disinfection, Surface Selection

Staphylococcus aureus biofilm

Staphylococcus aureus biofilm – Photo by Rodney M. Donlan, Ph.D., Janice Carr, USCDCP on Pixnio

I was thrilled to read the recent article published by the American Society for Microbiology, “The Role of Bacterial Biofilms in Antimicrobial Resistance,” by Andrea Prinzi, Ph.D., MPH, SM (ASCP) and Rodney Rohde, Ph.D. 

It is time we understand why surfaces play such a key role in spreading deadly pathogens, and this article tells the story. We can’t see microbes, and we can’t see biofilm. Biofilms adhere to surfaces and are the most adaptable microbial feature in nature. We assume that a surface is clean and disinfected by a visual assessment and then determine that the room is safe for the next patient. Research has shown that microbial rebound happens and that microbes can remain on surfaces for days, months, and years even after cleaning and disinfection. Surface materials and surface damage support the proliferation of microbes that can’t be seen.

“Biofilm infections are often related to medical devices (e.g., knee replacements, catheters, implants, contact lenses, prosthetic valves, and joints, screws, and pins) or tissue related (e.g., chronic wounds, “staph” skin infections, endocarditis, chronic otitis media, cystic fibrosis lungs). What’s more, biofilms can impact antimicrobial efficacy, as well as the immune response, contributing to antimicrobial resistance and allowing the establishment of persistent/chronic infections.”

Once microbes attach to surfaces, they form colonies and create a sticky extracellular matrix to protect the structure. This structure serves many purposes, including protection from the biocides that destroy microbes. It is time we look at what is happening beyond visual inspections of surfaces.

Many people would be surprised to know that many surfaces selected for the healthcare setting support attachment and biofilm formation, and biofilm can form on wet and dry surfaces. Additionally, surfaces can be damaged when cleaned with incompatible disinfectants and become microbial reservoirs.

I encourage everyone to read and share this article with everyone you know. The selection of surfaces plays a significant role in support of biofilm formation and the spread of deadly microbes, and the selection of surfaces begins at design – the design of medical devices and patient care products and the built environment. “Can this product be cleaned and disinfected using standard disinfectant products?”  should be one of the first questions, not an afterthought.  We must go beyond visual assessments and realize that microbes can’t be seen. Surface selection is a foundational issue, and it is virtually overlooked.

Read the article:

The Role of Bacterial Biofilms in Antimicrobial Resistance by Andrea Prinzi, Ph.D., MPH, SM (ASCP) and Rodney Rohde, Ph.D.  

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