22 Feb 2012
Overly sterile conditions in hospital wards may be doing patients more harm than good, one expert has suggested.
Dr Jack Gilbert believes opening windows to allow more air flow in hospitals would encourage the spread of “friendly” bacteria, which can help patients combat infection.
He cited the example of Florence Nightingale, who insisted that her patients were treated in clean conditions but also given plenty of fresh air.
Despite a lack of knowledge about microbial diversity in the 19th century, Dr Gilbert believes her theory was right.
He claims that sterile conditions in wards and operating theatres may be wiping out organisms that could prevent the spread of harmful bugs.
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the movement of bacteria in buildings mirrors events in the gut, where beneficial bacteria known as flora help the body to ward off infections by targeting potentially harmful organisms.
Dr Gilbert is the leader of an international project to construct a bacterial “field guide” of all the world’s known bugs.
Mark Enright, a professor of microbiology at the University of Bath, agreed that opening windows is likely to benefit hospital patients.
He said: “Air flow is a good thing in hospitals, you don’t want pockets where organisms can pool and swarm and pass on.”
But Prof Enright admitted that the idea that hospitals are too clean was “quite an extreme view”.
He added: “Given the opportunity, any bacterium that gets into the bloodstream and into sterile tissue will invade and cause problems and produce toxins that can kill.”
Copyright Press Association 2012