Marcia Frellick

March 11, 2015

The growth of bacteria found in the medical environment is inhibited by 99.99% in clothing made from antimicrobial-treated fabric, according to developers from LifeThreads, a manufacturer of medical apparel.

The lab coats, scrubs, and patient gowns were introduced at the Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses (AORN) Surgical Conference 2015 in Denver.

During the manufacturing process, the fabric is treated with zinc pyrithione, a fungistatic and bacteriostatic substance registered by the Environmental Protection Agency. Zinc pyrithione is used in dandruff shampoos and in products used to treat psoriasis, eczema, and dry skin. The active ingredients in the substance attacks the ability of bacteria to reproduce and absorb nutrients, and they are eventually eliminated.

The clothing offers one more layer of protection and is meant to be used in conjunction with other procedures and best practices for infection prevention and control, said Karan Jhunjhunwala, the founder and chief executive officer of LifeThreads.

"I don't believe it's a solution to infection, but it is an added layer in an integrated approach," he said.

The development of these products was prompted by the urgent need to prevent hospital-acquired infections and concerns that what doctors and nurses wear could be contributing to disease, Jhunjhunwala told Medscape Medical News.

Scrubbing the Scrubs

Compared with regular scrubs, antimicrobial apparel had a lower burden of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in the intensive care unit of an academic hospital, as reported by Medscape Medical News (Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2012;33:268-275).

This new clothing line is intriguing, and products that add barriers to pathogens are welcome, said Laura Buford, RN, chair of the communications committee for the Association for Professionals in Infection Control (APIC).

However, she said she would like to see more emphasis on procedures such as hand-washing to stop the spread of infection.

"We need to make sure people are scrubbing in appropriately, maintaining sterile barriers, and properly doing prep for surgery cases," she told Medscape Medical News. Clothing is important, especially gloves resistant to tears and fluid-resistant gowns that fit properly, but perhaps not as urgent a need as better adherence to sterilization protocols, she said.

A lab coat retails for about $18 to $25, and a nursing scrub top or nursing scrub bottom retail for about $12 to $25. The fabric can be washed normally with any detergent and remains effective for 125 washes, Jhunjhunwala reported.

According to the company, it plans to produce bed linens and privacy curtains later this year.

Buford said the curtains, especially, would be welcome. "I think those will be more beneficial than the clothing. They are handled so much, and not handled well. I think that would be a great idea," she said.

Mr Jhunjhunwala and Ms Buford have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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