Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is the leading cause of childhood respiratory hospitalizations among premature babies, can be detected from the clothes worn by caregivers/visitors who are visiting infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), according to research being presented at the International Conference on Emerging and Infectious Diseases (ICEID) in Atlanta.

A total of 4% of the swabs collected from the personal clothing of caregivers/visitors in the NICU had detectable RSV. In addition, RSV was detected from 9% of the high-touch areas in the NICU including computers on the nurse’s table, chairs adjacent to the admitted infants and their bed rails.

RSV was not detectable in the hands of the doctors, nurses or the visitors. Suboptimal hand hygiene practices may lead to transmission of the virus from clothing to the infants.

The study authors concluded that frequent cleaning of high touch areas and periodic screening of visitors for RSV as they enter into the NICU during period of annual seasonal epidemics might help in limiting the transmission of the disease within the NICU.

“Though the detection rate is low, personal clothing of caregivers/visitors do get contaminated with RSV,” said researcher Nusrat Homaira, PhD, from UNSW, Australia. The caregivers/visitors are not required to change clothing when they walk into the NICU. “There is a need for further research to evaluate how long the virus remains infectious on personal clothing, which will have policy implications in terms of need for use of separate gowns by the visitors while they are in the NICU.”