Date
25 July 2017
Up to 76 times more microbes were found in the linen processed by the laundry than are allowed under a US hygiene standard for hospitals, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung said. Photo: HKEJ
Up to 76 times more microbes were found in the linen processed by the laundry than are allowed under a US hygiene standard for hospitals, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung said. Photo: HKEJ

HKU professor ‘scared to death’ by germ counts at laundry

An expert panel has confirmed that a laundry plant in Sham Wan is the source of the outbreak of fungal infections at Queen Mary Hospital (QMH) over the past two months, Apple Daily reported Friday.

Dr. Yuen Kwok-yung, chair professor of microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, said all the five work procedures at the Sham Wan facility — washing, drying, ironing, transportation and packaging — were problematic.

Water was not heated to the proper temperature to kill bacteria, said Yuen, who headed the team that identified the virus that caused SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003.

Yuen said the environment of the laundry plant, which is operated by ISS Mediclean (HK), was highly polluted and that he was “scared to death” by the staggeringly high microbial counts.

He revealed that 61 percent of 195 samples taken from the laundry last month tested positive for the zygomycetes fungi.

While the water temperature displayed on the washing machine was 71 degrees Celsius, the actual temperature was only 60 C, Yuen said.

A microbial count of 928-1,568 cfu (colony-forming unit) per 100 square centimeters in linen processed at the laundry was found.

That is up to 76 times a US hygiene standard for hospital textiles of 20 cfu per 100 sq cm.

A subsequent test toward the end of July showed that up to 40 percent of the samples were still contaminated.

Linen was packaged before it was dried thoroughly, further promoting bacterial growth, Yuen said.

“It was like a jail, not a laundry workshop,” he said.

Desmond Ng Wo-kwai of the Hospital Authority (HA) said the cleaning of laundry was outsourced to ISS on a 10-year contract.

Ng said the HA would pursue the case with ISS, which is in the third year of the contract, and could terminate the deal.

The Sham Wan facilities would not be reopened in the coming months, Ng said.

The HA has ordered all its laundry facilities to raise the temperature of washing water to 80 C from from 71 C.

Six patients at QMH have been infected by mold since June.

Two have died.

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EL/AC/FL

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