Biofilm contamination of high-touched surfaces in intensive care units: epidemiology and potential impacts

D. M. Costa, K. Johani, D. S. Melo, L. K. O. Lopes, L. K. O. Lopes Lima, A. F. V. Tipple, H. Hu, K. Vickery*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this study was to determine the epidemiology (location, microbial load, microbiome, presence/absence of biofilm and pathogens, including ESKAPE—Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Enterobacter species, and antimicrobial susceptibility profiles) of the bacterial contamination on intensive care units (ICUs) surfaces. Fifty-seven high-touched surfaces were collected from adult, paediatric and neonatal ICUs from two large public Brazilian hospitals from central and north regions. Samples (c. 4 cm2 ) were subjected to culture (qualitative), qPCR targeting 16s rRNA gene (microbial load—bacteria per cm2 ), 16s rRNA amplicon sequencing (microbiome analysis) and scanning electron (SEM) or confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) (biofilm presence). Multidrug resistant organisms (MROs) were detected using specific chromogenic agar. The average bacterial load was 1·32 × 104 bacteria per cm2, container for newborn feeding bottles, stretcher mattress, humidicrib mattress filling and computer keyboards presented the higher bioburden. However, only 45·6% (26/57) were culture-positive, including 4/26 with MROs. ESKAPE organisms were detected in 51·8% of the samples subjected to next-generation sequencing. Viability staining and CLSM demonstrated live bacteria on 76·7% of culture-negative samples. Biofilm was present on all surfaces subjected to microscopy (n = 56), demonstrating that current cleaning practices are suboptimal and reinforcing that MROs are incorporated into hospital surfaces biofilm. Significance and Impact of the Study: Contamination of healthcare facilities surfaces has been shown to play a major role in transmission of pathogens. The findings of this study show that dry surface biofilms are widespread and can incorporate pathogens and multidrug-resistant organisms (MROs). Biofilms on highly touched surfaces pose a risk to patients, as dry surface biofilms persist for long period and micro-organisms within biofilm have been shown to be transmitted. This study also provides a better understanding of microbial populations in hospital environments, reinforcing that pathogens and MROs are found incorporated into biofilm, which impacts the difficulty in cleaning/disinfection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-276
Number of pages8
JournalLetters in Applied Microbiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019


  • biofilm
  • disinfection
  • environmental
  • microbial contamination
  • resistance


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