Surface-attached cells, biofilms and biocide susceptibility: Implications for hospital cleaning anddisinfection

J. A. Otter*, K. Vickery, J. T. Walker, E. deLancey Pulcini, P. Stoodley, S. D. Goldenberg, J. A G Salkeld, J. Chewins, S. Yezli, J. D. Edgeworth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

170 Citations (Scopus)


Microbes tend to attach to available surfaces and readily form biofilms, which is problematic in healthcare settings. Biofilms are traditionally associated with wet or damp surfaces such as indwelling medical devices and tubing on medical equipment. However, microbes can survive for extended periods in a desiccated state on dry hospital surfaces, and biofilms have recently been discovered on dry hospital surfaces. Microbes attached to surfaces and in biofilms are less susceptible to biocides, antibiotics and physical stress. Thus, surface attachment and/or biofilm formation may explain how vegetative bacteria can survive on surfaces for weeks to months (or more), interfere with attempts to recover microbes through environmental sampling, and provide a mixed bacterial population for the horizontal transfer of resistance genes. The capacity of existing detergent formulations and disinfectants to disrupt biofilms may have an important and previously unrecognized role in determining their effectiveness in the field, which should be reflected in testing standards. There is a need for further research to elucidate the nature and physiology of microbes on dry hospital surfaces, specifically the prevalence and composition of biofilms. This will inform new approaches to hospital cleaning and disinfection, including novel surfaces that reduce microbial attachment and improve microbial detachment, and methods to augment the activity of biocides against surface-attached microbes such as bacteriophages and antimicrobial peptides. Future strategies to address environmental contamination on hospital surfaces should consider the presence of microbes attached to surfaces, including biofilms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-27
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Hospital Infection
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


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