Microbial Communities: Built Environment Non-Technical Summary

Non-Technical Summary

Humans spend most of their time inside buildings- that includes the time they spend in the hospital. Hospitals are a hub for not only sick patients, but healthcare workers and visitors. As a high-traffic area, the types of bacteria growing in a hospital are constantly fluctuating. This growth is only exacerbated by the bacteria lent to the environment by the sick patients. The conditions that impact how microbes spread in a hospital are important to understand so a patient doesn’t come down with a new disease while being treated for something unrelated. Researchers from the University of Chicago spent over a year sampling what bacteria were growing throughout a new hospital and on patients- and they found some surprising results.  When a new patient was admitted to the hospital, the bacteria of the room they were staying in quickly came to resemble the patient. This trend was most obvious on surfaces that a patient would often touch- like a bedrail. Results from DNA sequencing showed that antimicrobial resistance was also present. However, bacteria with resistances to drugs were more likely to be found on the hospital surfaces rather than living on the skin of patients or staff. Researchers also found that certain patients had fewer microbes on themselves and their surroundings. In particular, chemotherapy patients had fewer different types of microbes. This study concluded that humans are the biggest factor for what microbes are living in buildings. Further research should spend more time looking for trends in microbial transfer within hospitals and for deciding what can be done to present a healthy hospital.

S. Lax, et al., Bacterial colonization and succession in a newly opened hospital. Sci. Transl. Med. 9, eaah6500, (2017), https://dx.doi.org/10.1126/scitranslmed.aah6500.

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