Concern for washing machine safety rises following an investigation of a consumer-grade washing machine at a hospital in Germany where pathogens from the machine were found on the clothing of newborn babies. Luckily, all 13 newborns escaped the incident without infection. The drug-resistant pathogen in question is called Klebsiella oxytoca.

How Was Gut Bacteria Found On Newborns?

Words like ‘superbug’ may conjure images of cartoon representations of germs that are out to get you. But K. oxytoca is actually a healthy bacteria found inside your gut. When found on the outside, however, it can lead to serious infections. The situation is unusual for multiple reasons, and how the bacteria traveled from the machine to the newborn clothing is unclear. Investigators linked energy-efficient washing machines to the outbreak and found the bacteria in the detergent drawer and rubber door seal. Most hospitals employ high-temperature industrial washers so disinfectants may be added. This machine, however, utilized a lower heat temperature setting and was found to not drain completely after each load.

What About My Consumer-Grade Washing Machine?

What this means is that it is possible to have germs living in your washing machine, especially if it is energy-efficient, due to temperatures too low to kill certain bacteria. Most people who become exposed to K. oxytoca, however, do not get an infection. Those most vulnerable to bacterial infection if exposed are the elderly with an open wound or bladder catheter, younger people with infections or injuries involving pus, and those with compromised immune systems. Therefore, a recommended preventative measure is to wash laundry with a high-quality disinfectant at very high temperatures.

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