Cotton clothes carry fungal spores into hospitals

Ithaca, NY -- Clothing, particularly cotton, worn by both visitors and patients in hospitals are a leading source of transmission of spores of Aspergillus fungus, according to a study by two Cornell University textile experts. The common fungus has long been known to pose a potentially deadly threat of infection in hospital patients with damaged or impaired immune systems.

Cotton was found to harbor and disperse the spores of Aspergillus more than other fabrics in the study. Aspergillus is a term that refers to a group of airborne mold fungi that are commonly inhaled in all environments worldwide.

Kay Obendorf, professor of textiles and apparel at Cornell and an expert on protective clothing for health-care and agricultural workers, concludes that simply walking into a patient's room can easily dislodge the spores from clothing, with cotton clothes dispersing more than the other fabrics studied. Obendorf examined seven fabric types and suspects other fibers, such as wool, which was not studied, might disperse as much or even more than cotton.

"Hugging, kissing, sitting on a patient's bed or pulling up a chair create air turbulence and friction within and around the fabric, thus releasing potentially deadly spores," she says. However, less than 7 percent of bone marrow units in a national survey conducted by other researchers restrict such activities, Obendorf points out.

As a result, she says, high-risk hospital patients, particularly those suffering from a damaged or impaired immune system, are easily exposed to Aspergillus spores. The danger is that they could develop a number of Aspergillus -caused diseases, including pulmonary aspergillosis, a potentially lethal lung infection, Obendorf says.

Obendorf and former Cornell graduate student Betsy Dart, M.S. '98, now a consultant at Arthur D. Little Inc., conducted several studies to determine what role clothing might play in bringing the spores i

Contact: Susan S. Lang
Cornell University News Service

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