The Grapevine

Clothes From Washing Machine Bring Potentially Deadly Superbug To Children

A common household activity has been linked to recent cases of superbug infection in Germany. Doctors were surprised that the use of washing machine led to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria among babies. 

A new study, published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, describes the cases of 13 newborns and one child carrying the superbug Klebsiella oxytoca. Researchers said that all patients contracted the bacteria after using clothes washed with the same machine at a children's hospital.

They found the traces of the superbug on the surface of the laundry area and leftover water from the washing machine. The bacteria was also present on knitted hats and socks provided by the hospital. 

"This is a highly unusual case for a hospital, in that it involved a household type washing machine," Ricarda Schmithausen, a hygienist from the University of Bonn in Germany, said. 

K. oxytoca did not cause any diseases or health problems in the affected babies. However, the study called for new guidelines and standards of cleaning clothes and other materials to prevent sudden spread of drug-resistant bacteria.

Researchers said the final cold water rinse potentially allowed the bacteria to thrive. However, they did not determine how K. oxytoca went to the machine, ScienceAlert reported Tuesday

But Schmithausen noted the machine failed to meet Germany’s hygienic standards for hospital use. The hospital removed the washing machine and reported the K. oxytoca was also eliminated. 

The researchers noted that people can continue using their washing machines at home. They noted it is important to follow washing instructions on the clothes.

"If elderly people requiring nursing care with open wounds or bladder catheters, or younger people with suppurating injuries or infections live in the household, laundry should be washed at higher temperatures, or with efficient disinfectants, to avoid transmission of dangerous pathogens," Martin Exner, a hygienist from the University of Bonn, said. 

Potential Effects of Superbug

The affected babies recovered after the K. oxytoca infection. But experts warned that, if left untreated, the superbug may cause serious health conditions such as gastrointestinal and respiratory problems. 

In some cases, the infection leads to death. Late diagnosis could make the bacteria hard to treat since it is resistant to many antibiotics.

laundry saloon A woman walks at a laundry bar. Pixabay