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New weapon to fight hospital infections


A potential new weapon in the fight against hospital acquired infections has been discovered by researchers at the University of Leeds.

The scientists studied the effect of negative air ionisers on infections caused by acinetobacter; a pathogen responsible for increasing numbers of sometimes fatal infections amongst hospital patients. Ionisers were placed in the intensive care unit at St James’s University Hospital, which, like similar wards across the UK, has had recurrent problems with infections caused by acinetobacter.

For the first six months the researchers, from the aerobiological research group in the University’s school of civil engineering, monitored the normal situation in the unit, taking samples from surfaces, patients and from the air to monitor bacteria levels, and logging the number of patient infections. During the second half of the year-long trial, the ionisers were switched on, and the results were impressive: infections due to acinetobacter reduced dramatically.

Lead researcher Dr Clive Beggs said: "This is the first epidemiological study of its kind into the use of ionisers in hospital wards and the initial results are very promising. We believe that the negative air ions are removing the bacteria from the air, so stopping the transmission of infection. Our tests have focused solely on acinetobacter, but it’s possible the ionisers may have had an effect on other airborne bacteria. We now need to carry out further research to determine exactly how the ions work and how widespread their effects could be."

Even without further research, the fact the ionisers are already making a difference is good enough for lead consultant at St James’s intensive care unit, Dr Stephen Dean. "We wanted to be involved in the trial as infections are a major issue for units such as ours, where many patients are already very vulnerable," he said. "The results have been fantastic - so much so that we asked the University to leave the ionisers with us. Since the trial finished in May, we’ve kept them in operation, and have continued to see greatly reduced acinetobacter infections on the ward."

Dr Kevin Kerr, lead clinical microbiologist on the project, said: “Acinetobacter infections are very difficult to treat as the bacterium is resistant to nearly all antibiotics, so prevention of these infections is of key importance. Ionisers may become a powerful weapon in the fight against hospital-acquired infection.”

The researchers have compiled their report for NHS Estates who funded the study, and will be publishing a paper on the research in the new year. They are continuing their work on negative air ions and are conducting further trials and experiments at the University of Leeds.

Abigail Chard | alfa
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