Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Antibiotic-resistant bacteria spread by washing machine


Antibiotic-resistant pathogens can be spread via washing machines. This has been proven by hygienists at the University of Bonn for a children's hospital in which a Klebsiella oxytoca type was repeatedly transmitted to newborns. Fortunately, no dangerous infection occurred. The source was a conventional washing machine used to launder the clothes of the newborns. This case draws attention, especially as antibiotic-resistant bacteria could also be transmitted via the washing machine in households with people who need nursing care. A further study will examine this distribution channel in more detail. The results are now published in the journal "Applied and Environmental Microbiology".

The Klebsiella oxytoca bacterium was increasingly detected during routine hygiene screenings in the neonatal ward of a children's hospital in Germany. The bacterium can lead to gastrointestinal and respiratory infections and in the worst case result in fatal sepsis.

Washing machines can also harbor dangerous bacteria: This was investigated by Dr. Dr. Ricarda Schmithausen and Dr. Daniel Exner from the University Hospital Bonn.

(c) Photo: Volker Lannert/Uni Bonn

In this particular case, common antibiotics could only be used against this pathogen to a limited extent or not at all. After newborns were repeatedly colonized with the pathogen and intensive hygiene intervention measures were unsuccessful, the hospital called in the Institute for Hygiene and Public Health (IHPH) of the University Hospital Bonn.

"Luckily, these babies did not suffer any dangerous infections," says Dr. Daniel Exner, hygiene officer at the Clinic and Polyclinic for General, Visceral, Thoracic and Vascular Surgery at the University Hospital Bonn.

In order to trace the source and possible distribution pathways, several environmental samples in patient and staff areas and suspected risk locations were compared with the samples of the newborns.

"This type of Klebsiella oxytoca was so unique that it was in this form not yet included in the database of the National Reference Center for gram-negative hospital pathogens," says Dr. Dr. Ricarda Schmithausen, Head of the One Health Department at IHPH.

This particularity was advantageous because it allowed the distribution pathway to be clearly traced. Neither the parents nor the nursing staff had transmitted the bacteria.

Transmission to newborns via beanies and socks

"The Klebsiella oxytoca type was clearly identified in the detergent drawer and on the door seal of a washing machine in the basement, which was used to launder the hand-knitted socks and beanies of the babies on the ward," says Prof. Dr. Dr. Martin Exner, Director of the Institute for Hygiene and Public Health at the University Hospital Bonn. The bacteria were passed on to the newborns via the clothing.

After the washing machine was removed, no further colonization of the premature babies was detected. "This clearly demonstrates that we found the Klebsiella source", Schmithausen concludes. "This is a special case." Hospitals normally use special washing machines and laundry processes that wash at high temperatures and with disinfectants, or designated laundries handle the washing externally. On the neonatal ward, however, the case that occurred some time ago involved a standard washing machine. "We decided to investigate this case in order to draw attention to possible problems with resistant bacteria that are now advancing into the domestic environment," says Schmithausen.

Studies have already shown that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can take hold in washing machines. "However, we have proven for the first time that a washing machine can also spread antibiotic-resistant bacteria to humans," said Prof. Exner.

This result also has consequences for the domestic environment. For environmental reasons, the trend in conventional household machines is towards lower temperatures of well below 60°C (140°F). According to the researchers, this is in principle a very positive development because it saves energy and protects the climate.

However, if elderly people requiring nursing care with open wounds or bladder catheters or younger people with suppurating injuries or infections lived in the household, laundry should be washed at higher temperatures, such as 60°C (140°F), to avoid the transmission of dangerous pathogens. This is a growing challenge for hygienists, as the number of people receiving nursing care from family members is constantly increasing.

New study: Subjects wanted

The Institute for Hygiene and Public Health would like to investigate this transmission path even more closely. The scientists are therefore looking for households with persons who have previously been placed in in-patient isolation due to colonization with multi-resistant pathogens and who are interested in participating in a study on the transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria via washing machines. Interested individuals can contact Dr. Daniel Exner (e-mail:

Wissenschaftliche Ansprechpartner:

Dr. med. Dr. agr. Ricarda Schmithausen
Oberärztin, Fachbereich One Health
Institut für Hygiene und Öffentliche Gesundheit (IHPH)
Universitätsklinikum Bonn
Tel. +49 (0228) 287-13452

Prof. Dr. med. Dr. h.c. Martin Exner
Direktor des Instituts für Hygiene und öffentliche Gesundheit (IHPH)
Universitätsklinikum Bonn
Tel. +49 (0228) 287-15520 or -15521


Ricarda M. Schmithausen, Esther Sib, Martin Exner, Sylvia Hack, Claudia Rösing, Patrick Ciorba, Gabriele Bierbaum, Michael Savin, Sally F. Bloomfield, Martin Kaase, Anja Jacobshagen, Stefanie Gemein, Jürgen Gebel, Steffen Engelhart, Daniel Exner: The washing machine as a reservoir for transmission of extended spectrum beta-lactamase (CTX-M-15)-producing Klebsiella oxytoca ST201 in newborns, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, DOI: 10.1128/AEM.01435-19

Johannes Seiler | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Further information:

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Discovery shows promise for treating Huntington's Disease
05.08.2020 | Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

nachricht Carbon monoxide improves endurance performance
05.08.2020 | Universität Bayreuth

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: ScanCut project completed: laser cutting enables more intricate plug connector designs

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT have come up with a striking new addition to contact stamping technologies in the ERDF research project ScanCut. In collaboration with industry partners from North Rhine-Westphalia, the Aachen-based team of researchers developed a hybrid manufacturing process for the laser cutting of thin-walled metal strips. This new process makes it possible to fabricate even the tiniest details of contact parts in an eco-friendly, high-precision and efficient manner.

Plug connectors are tiny and, at first glance, unremarkable – yet modern vehicles would be unable to function without them. Several thousand plug connectors...

Im Focus: New Strategy Against Osteoporosis

An international research team has found a new approach that may be able to reduce bone loss in osteoporosis and maintain bone health.

Osteoporosis is the most common age-related bone disease which affects hundreds of millions of individuals worldwide. It is estimated that one in three women...

Im Focus: AI & single-cell genomics

New software predicts cell fate

Traditional single-cell sequencing methods help to reveal insights about cellular differences and functions - but they do this with static snapshots only...

Im Focus: TU Graz Researchers synthesize nanoparticles tailored for special applications

“Core-shell” clusters pave the way for new efficient nanomaterials that make catalysts, magnetic and laser sensors or measuring devices for detecting electromagnetic radiation more efficient.

Whether in innovative high-tech materials, more powerful computer chips, pharmaceuticals or in the field of renewable energies, nanoparticles – smallest...

Im Focus: Tailored light inspired by nature

An international research team with Prof. Cornelia Denz from the Institute of Applied Physics at the University of Münster develop for the first time light fields using caustics that do not change during propagation. With the new method, the physicists cleverly exploit light structures that can be seen in rainbows or when light is transmitted through drinking glasses.

Modern applications as high resolution microsopy or micro- or nanoscale material processing require customized laser beams that do not change during...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

“Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2020”: The final touches for surfaces

23.07.2020 | Event News

Conference radar for cybersecurity

21.07.2020 | Event News

Contact Tracing Apps against COVID-19: German National Academy Leopoldina hosts international virtual panel discussion

07.07.2020 | Event News

Latest News

Rare Earth Elements in Norwegian Fjords?

06.08.2020 | Earth Sciences

Anode material for safe batteries with a long cycle life

06.08.2020 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Turning carbon dioxide into liquid fuel

06.08.2020 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>