Antimicrobials in Health Care Furnishings: What Hospitals Should Know

By Practice Greenhealth Staff on May 10, 2016

Health Care Without Harm has published a new paper examining the safety and efficacy of antimicrobial properties in furnishings—and the evidence doesn’t support their use.

While the increased use of these products is related to a concern with the transmission of health care-associated infections, the paper, “Antimicrobials in Hospital Furnishings: Do They Help Reduce Healthcare-Associated Infections?” finds that antimicrobials have rarely been evaluated in well-designed clinical studies for their effectiveness in contributing to HAI reduction. And while some may ultimately prove to be effective, currently the benefits, risks, trade-offs and costs associated with their use are largely unknown, according to the paper’s executive summary.

Health care administrators, staff, clinicians and product manufacturers are encouraged to generate data to evaluate the effectiveness of antimicrobials to reduce HAIs. Until that time, due to life cycle safety concerns, releases into indoor and outdoor environments, unwanted exposures (and unintended consequences) to humans, wildlife and ecosystems, and an increased risk of antibiotic resistance for some of these compounds, the paper recommends that:

  • Health care facilities do not specify antimicrobials in furnishings unless they have undergone U.S. Environmental Protection Agency evaluation and registration under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act and have been shown to help reduce HAIs in a clinical setting as part of an integrated infection-control program.
  • Furnishing manufacturers should make information publicly available about the presence of all antimicrobials in products and should not make antimicrobials the standard option for any products, with the exception of antimicrobials that are used solely for product protection.
  • Antimicrobial manufacturers should conduct full toxicity testing and make the results publicly available.
  • Research should be prioritized to determine efficacy, risks throughout the life cycle, trade-offs and cost implications of the use of antimicrobials in furnishings in clinical settings.

The full paper and recommendations were published in April. The paper is authored by Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, science advisor to Health Care Without Harm, and other contributors are Rachel L. Gibson, JD, MPP, director of Safer Chemicals, and Tracey Easthope, MPH, senior strategist and director of Green Chemistry and Safer Chemicals Project, Ecology Center­—both of whom are with Health Care Without Harm.