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Persistence of microbial communities including Pseudomonas aeruginosa in a hospital environment: a potential health hazard

Pedro Miguel de Abreu1, Pedro Geadas Farias1, Gabriel Silva Paiva2, Ana Maria Almeida1 and Paula Vasconcelos Morais23*

Author Affiliations

1 Instituto Piaget, Enxerim 8300-025, Silves, Portugal

2 IMAR – Marine and Environmental Research Centre, University of Coimbra, 3004-517 Coimbra, Portugal

3 Department of Life Sciences, FCTUC, University of Coimbra, 3004-517 Coimbra, Portugal

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BMC Microbiology 2014, 14:118  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-14-118

Published: 8 May 2014



The persistence of microbial communities and how they change in indoor environments is of immense interest to public health. Moreover, hospital acquired infections are significant contributors to morbidity and mortality. Evidence suggests that, in hospital environments agent transfer between surfaces causes healthcare associated infections in humans, and that surfaces are an important transmission route and may act as a reservoir for some of the pathogens.

This study aimed to evaluate the diversity of microorganisms that persist on noncritical equipment and surfaces in a main hospital in Portugal, and are able to grow in selective media for Pseudomonas, and relate them with the presence of Pseudomonas aeruginosa.


During 2 years, a total of 290 environmental samples were analyzed, in 3 different wards. The percentage of equipment in each ward that showed low contamination level varied between 22% and 38%, and more than 50% of the equipment sampled was highly contaminated. P. aeruginosa was repeatedly isolated from sinks (10 times), from the taps’ biofilm (16 times), and from the showers and bedside tables (two times). Two ERIC clones were isolated more than once. The contamination level of the different taps analyzed showed correlation with the contamination level of the hand gels support, soaps and sinks. Ten different bacteria genera were frequently isolated in the selective media for Pseudomonas. Organisms usually associated with nosocomial infections as Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, Enterococcus feacalis, Serratia nematodiphila were also repeatedly isolated on the same equipment.


The environment may act as a reservoir for at least some of the pathogens implicated in nosocomial infections. The bacterial contamination level was related to the presence of humidity on the surfaces, and tap water (biofilm) was a point of dispersion of bacterial species, including potentially pathogenic organisms. The materials of the equipment sampled could not be related to the microbial contamination level. The presence of a disinfectant in the isolation medium suggests that the number of microorganism in the environment could be higher and shows the diversity of disinfectant resistant species. The statistical analysis suggests that the presence of bacteria could increase the risk of transmission by hand manipulation.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa; Hospital environment; Surface microbial colonization; Stenotrophomonas maltophilia