Reusable protective eyewear can increase infection risk, study finds

The use of disposable products reduces the risk in all cases

Reusable protective googles worn in hospital operating theatres can increase cross contamination and infection risk according to a new study.

Victor Lange, principal investigator and report author, investigated whether protective eyewear used in an operating theatre can be a source of contact and cross contamination. The research involved collecting eyewear used by personnel from 71 surgical cases performed in four operating theatres over a 30-day period. A total of 315 pieces of eyewear, comprising 276 disposable and 39 reusable pieces, were isolated and cultured. After initial culturing, the samples again were isolated, cleaned with a germicidal wipe according to the disinfection protocol, air-dried according to protocol, and then cultured again for contamination post disinfection.

Forty-five per cent of the total sample cultured positive for contamination post use. The study found that 38% of disposable and 95% of reusable eyewear hosted microbial pathogens directly post-use. And, after disinfection, 74% of the reusable eyewear remained contaminated with pathogens known to cause hospital-acquired infections. Stapylococcus colonies grew in 44% of samples, Gram-positive cocci in 36%, Bacillus in 11%, Diptheroids in 6%, and Micrococcus species in 4%.

The results are reported in the American Journal of Infection Control.

Disinfection practices are often unreliable and protective eyewear is often touched during the course of care

Infectious agents can be introduced to the eye either directly (e.g. via blood splashes, respiratory droplets generated during coughing or suctioning), or from touching the eyes with contaminated fingers or other objects. Most guidelines and protocols suggest that protective eyewear be used based on anticipated exposure, and then be discarded or promptly decontaminated prior to reuse.

'The problem is that contamination is not always visible, disinfection practices are often unreliable and protective eyewear is often touched during the course of care,' said Lange.

He concluded that reusable eyewear, or eyewear with reusable components 'may pose a risk of carrying ongoing bioburden, due to an inability to disinfect all surface details, and thereby may increase risk to operating room healthcare workers and patients'.

The use of disposable eyewear – in all cases – reduces the risk.

TIDI Products, a US manufacturer of single-use infection-prevention products for medical and dental markets located in Neenah, WI, says its TIDIShield disposable eye shields and face shields provide proper protection to reduce the risk of contamination, yet are totally disposable.