The other day on the NYC subway I saw a disturbing advertisement. No, it wasn't the one promoting breast augmentation by showing frowning, small-chested women turn into smiling, large-chested women — though that one is also disturbing — it was much more subtle than that.
The ad read "Someone sneezed? Don't worry, we'll be right over with some very, very strong antibiotics."
It was so jarring I had to tweet about it... and I pretty much never tweet anything.
"The wet, humid and relatively protected environment of the drainpipes makes for an ideal breeding ground for bacteria," researchers wrote in the study, which was published in the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
The bacteria in drainpipes may also be infecting hospital patients, researchers think, since the same pathogens found in the sinks were also found in patients. To figure out how the bacteria get from sink to patient — whom they assume did not have direct contact with the hospital's pipes — researchers built a model of a hospital sink setup and then colonized the pipes with E. coli.
After they started "feeding" the bacteria with fluids that would be washed down a hospital drain — IV fluid, feeding supplements and leftover drinks from patient rooms — the bacteria multiplied, eventually reaching the sink strainer. When they then ran the faucet, researchers found that the water splashed bacteria up to 30 inches away.
If this happened in a real hospital, staff could easily pick up the bacteria and they carry it throughout the building and into patient rooms.
Mystery solved, right? Well...maybe. This study was highly controlled, with the researchers adding a step whenever they weren't getting the results they expected, such as feeding the bacteria for quite some time before they turned on the water. While it's very possible that this is how bacteria are spread, it's important to remember that studies have limitations.
Still, researchers make a convincing case for how superbugs go from sink to patient in hospitals, and they even offer up a solution. Since the majority of bacteria were found near the faucet, the researchers believe that a common sink and faucet design used in many hospitals might be to blame. In that case, simply choosing a differently-shaped sink could keep superbugs in the sink and away from people who got to the hospital to get better, not become a breeding ground for super-strength bacteria.