Staphylococcus aureus dry-surface biofilms are not killed by sodium hypochlorite: implications for infection control

Almatroudi, A. et al. Journal of Hospital Infection. Published online: 12 April 2016

Image shows Staphylococcus aureus – macro photo x 10 of culture, characteristic gold/yellow colonies.

Background: Dry hospital environments are contaminated with pathogenic bacteria in biofilms, which suggests that current cleaning practices and disinfectants are failing.

Aim: To test the efficacy of sodium hypochlorite solution against Staphylococcus aureus dry-surface biofilms.

Methods: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Biofilm Reactor was adapted to create a dry-surface biofilm, containing 1.36×107 S. aureus/coupon, by alternating cycles of growth and dehydration over 12 days. Biofilm was detected qualitatively using live/dead stain confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM), and quantitatively with sonicated viable plate counts and crystal violet assay. Sodium hypochlorite (1000 to 20,000 parts per million) was applied to the dry-surface biofilm for 10 min, coupons were rinsed three times, and residual biofilm viability was determined by CLSM, plate counts and prolonged culture up to 16 days. Isolates before and after exposure underwent minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) and minimum eradication concentration (MEC) testing, and one pair underwent whole-genome sequencing.

Findings: Hypochlorite exposure reduced plate counts by a factor of 7 log10, and reduced biofilm biomass by a factor of 100; however, staining of residual biofilm showed that live S. aureus cells remained. On prolonged incubation, S. aureus regrew and formed biofilms. Post-exposure S. aureus isolates had MICs and MECs that were not significantly different from the parent strains. Whole-genome sequencing of one pre- and post-exposure pair found that they were virtually identical.

Conclusions: Hypochlorite exposure led to a 7-log kill but the organisms regrew. No resistance mutations occurred, implying that hypochlorite resistance is an intrinsic property of S. aureus biofilms. The clinical significance of this warrants further study.

Read the abstract here

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