A wide variety of specialty textiles are used in health care settings for bedding, clothing, and privacy. The ability of textiles to host or otherwise sequester microbes has been well documented; however, their reciprocal potential for liberating airborne bacteria remains poorly characterized. In response, a multi-season survey of bacterial bioaerosols was conducted in the origin and terminus of residual paths which are specifically designed to isolate soiled hospital textiles as they are moved to laundering. This survey used conventional optical particle counting which incorporated multi-channel fluorescence in conjunction with molecular phylogenetic analyses to characterize the bioaerosols liberated during soiled textile storage—immediately before and after the occupation of a modern hospital. Although outfitted with a HEPA filtration system, the number of airborne particles presenting fluorescing optical signatures consistent with airborne bacteria and fungi significantly increased in textile holding rooms soon after the hospital’s commissioning, even though these isolated residual areas rarely host personnel. The bioaerosol liberated during textile storage was characterized using Illumina MiSeq sequencing of bacterial 16S ribosomal ribonucleic acid (rRNA) genes. Gene copies recovered by quantitative PCR from aerosol collected in co-located impingers were consistent with fluorescence gated optical particle counting.
The relative abundance patterns of proximal bacterial bioaerosol were such that the air in the origin and terminus of textile storage rooms could not be differentiated once the hospital began processing soiled linens. Genes from microbes typically associating with human skin, feces, and hair—Staphylococcus, Propionibacteria, Corynebacteria, Lactobacillus, and Streptococcus spp.—dominated the aerosol abundance profiles in textile holding rooms, which were generally far less diverse than communities recovered from surfaces in patient rooms.
These results suggest that aerosol partitioning from the routine handling of soiled textiles can contribute to airborne exposures in the health care environment.