How Do Germs Spread from Wet and Dry Surfaces?


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Water is used a lot in healthcare, and in a lot of different ways.

For example, water is used in sinks, faucets, ice machines, drains, toilets, and therapy pools.

While water is needed in healthcare settings, certain germs, especially some bacteria, can grow on wet surfaces.

If you get harmful germs from water and wet surfaces on your hands, they can spread to other surfaces, devices, and people that you touch. These germs can cause illness in some people, like in patients with weakened immune systems.

Additionally, if medical instruments and equipment, like devices or central lines, get wet, they can start growing bacteria. That bacteria can then get into a patient’s blood, or other parts of their body, and make them sick.

Why Do Germs Grow on Wet Surfaces?

Although tap water is safe to drink, it is not sterile.

This means that tap water always has some germs in it.

Most of the time, the germs in tap water aren’t a problem for healthy people.

But because most water and wet surfaces aren’t sterile and can be a good place for bacteria to grow, it’s important to be careful with water to prevent germs from spreading in healthcare.

Dry Surfaces Are Germy, Too

Dry surfaces include “high-touch” surfaces like bed rails, door handles, and light switches.

They also include countertops, bed curtains, floors, and things that might not be touched as dry surface

Germs that are found on the body, in the air, and in stool can often be found on dry surfaces.

Most of the time, these germs won’t harm people, but they can sometimes cause problems in healthcare.

For instance, certain germs, like spores from C. difficile, can live on dry surfaces for a long time. They are a big concern in healthcare because the spores are durable and can spread efficiently.

Other examples of the germs that can be found on dry surfaces include yeasts, rotavirus, and norovirus.

Just like with wet surfaces, hands can pick up germs from dry surfaces and transfer them to other surfaces and people, which can make people sick.

Germs can also spread from dry surfaces to medical instruments and equipment, which can also spread to people and make them sick.

What Can You Do to Promote Infection Control in Your Healthcare Setting?

It is important to protect yourself, patients, and colleagues from germs that can spread from wet and dry surfaces.

Remember to properly clean your hands and wear appropriate PPE, such as gloves, when needed. Proper cleaning and disinfection of wet and dry surfaces can make a difference, too.

“When our patients are ill and weak, they’re more likely to get really sick from germs we find in healthcare, so you can see why cleaning and disinfection are both so important,” said Dr. Abigail Carlson, an infectious diseases physician with the CDC, as part of CDC Project Firstline’s Inside Infection Control series.

Access more information about infection prevention and control in healthcare by visiting resources from CDC Project Firstline.

Project Firstline creates resources, including videos and shareable images, web buttons, posters, and print materials. They also have facilitator toolkits to help workers lead trainings even if they are not an infection control expert.

Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio is working with the National Hispanic Medical Association to bring Project Firstline infection control educational content to healthcare workers, so they are equipped with the knowledge they need to protect themselves, their facilities, and their patients (Latinos and all communities) from infectious disease threats in healthcare settings.

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“Healthcare teams in hospitals, nursing homes, and other care settings are the front lines against the spread of infection,” said Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio. “CDC’s Project Firstline is bolstering those efforts by developing evidence-based tools that can be delivered in a variety of ways to make infection control learning convenient and accessible for busy healthcare staff.”

Learn More about Project Firstline!

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