I read a Nature article discussing a project called the Hospital Microbiome Project. This projects entails researchers sampling all of the surfaces of a new hospital, such as the light switches, floor, and countertops, before the hospital became functional. The researchers then planned to sample and sequence the hospital when it became functional, although not only sampling the surfaces but also the patients that were living in individual rooms. This samples would allow the researchers to see what microbes were present on what surfaces at what times. The goal of this project was to see how microbes travel through the hospital.
The article notes that after the hospital became functional, the research showed that there were significant differences between the microbiomes in different patient rooms. The study also showed that prolonged patient stay in a room, such as patients suffering from cancer, gave the microbes time to settle into the room, whereas the rooms of short-term patients returned to their previous pre-patient state more quickly. However the study also noted that a long-term patients microbe remained in their room after the room had been cleaned.
While this study has not yet specifically found the transmission of any pathogens in the hospital in this way, I believe that it is something important to look at, especially as more and more is learned about the effects of the microbiome. If a patient is treated with an antibiotic, will they be colonized by the microbiome that the previous inhabitant of the room left behind? The implications of this could be potentially large, especially if we find that the microbiome can contribute to diseases or have effects on weight or personality. It would be interesting to see how long it takes for a new patient’s microbiome to replace the microbiome of the previous patient. This may also have implications for shared patient rooms, and how one patient’s microbiome affects the other patient. More research needs to be done on this topic to not only determine these issues with the “normal” microbiota, but also when potential pathogens may be brought in to the hospital by one patient and could potentially be transmitted to others.
The link to the nature article is here:
And here is the link to the Hospital Microbiome Project webpage: