Spread of infectious microbes during emergency medical response

Melissa K. Valdez, Jonathan D. Sexton, Eric A. Lutz, Kelly A. Reynolds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background To our knowledge, no studies to date demonstrate potential spread of microbes during actual emergency medical service (EMS) activities. Our study introduces a novel approach to identification of contributors to EMS environment contamination and development of infection control strategies, using a bacteriophage surrogate for pathogenic organisms. Methods Bacteriophage ΦX174 was used to trace cross-contamination and evaluate current disinfection practices and a hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) wipe intervention within emergency response vehicles. Prior to EMS calls, 2 surfaces were seeded with ΦX174. On call completion, EMS vehicle and equipment surfaces were sampled before decontamination, after decontamination per current practices, and after implementation of the intervention. Results Current decontamination practices did not significantly reduce viral loads on surfaces (P =.3113), but H2O2 wipe intervention did (P =.0065). Bacteriophage spread to 56% (27/48) of sites and was reduced to 54% (26/48) and 40% (19/48) with current decontamination practices and intervention practices, respectively. Conclusion Results suggest firefighters' hands were the main vehicles of microbial transfer. Current practices were not consistently applied or standardized and minimally reduced prevalence and quantity of microbial contamination on EMS surfaces. Although use of a consistent protocol of H2O2 wipes significantly reduced percent prevalence and concentration of viruses, training and promotion of surface disinfection should be provided.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)606-611
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Infection Control
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Emergency medical service
  • Health care-associated infection
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Infection control
  • Intervention
  • Phage tracer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


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