Antimicrobial surfaces and their potential in reducing the role of the inanimate environment in the incidence of hospital-acquired infections
Environmental surfaces and their role in the epidemiology of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) have become an area of great scientific interest, particularly in light of the much publicised cases of infections due to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile in UK hospitals. This feature article sets out to examine the role of surfaces and the inanimate environment in the spread of HAIs, and looks at various antimicrobial techniques being researched to reduce microbial contamination of surfaces. Preventative measures such as coatings which reduce initial microbial adhesion to surfaces will be considered alongside actively antimicrobial measures which inactivate microorganisms already adherent to a surface. The principal focus of this feature article will be given to light-activated antimicrobial surfaces such as the photocatalyst TiO2 and surfaces with embedded photosensitisers. Surfaces which release antimicrobial compounds or metal ions such as silver and copper are also examined, alongside materials which kill microbes upon contact. The widespread research and development of these antimicrobial surfaces is of great importance in maintaining acceptable levels of hygiene in hospitals and will help to fight the spread of HAIs via the contamination of inanimate surfaces in the healthcare environment.