Disinfectant wipes are routinely used in hospitals to kill bacteria on hard surfaces—bed rails, monitors, tables, and keypads—touched by patients and staff. Researchers at Cardiff University, Wales, have found that these practices have the potential to spread disease after only the first use of a wipe. The team from the University’s Welsh School of Pharmacy observed hospital staff using surface wipes to decontaminate surfaces and found that the wipes were being applied to the same surface several times and used on several surfaces before being thrown away.

The researchers then replicated these actions in the laboratory to test the ability of several commercially available wipes to disinfect surfaces contaminated with strains of S. aureus, including MRSA. They tested the removal of pathogens, the transmission of them, and the antimicrobial properties of the wipes.

The study showed that, although some wipes can remove higher numbers of bacteria from surfaces than others, none were able to kill the bacteria removed. In using the wipes multiple times, hospital staff was actually transferring the bacteria to other surfaces.

The investigators concluded that wipes can be effective in removing, killing, and preventing the transfer of pathogens such as MRSA but only if used the right way. The most effective way to prevent the spread of MRSA is to ensure that wipes are used only once on one surface.

The study is being presented at the American Society of Microbiology’s 108th General meeting in Boston.