Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Health-Care Facilities (2003)


Although the environment serves as a reservoir for a variety of microorganisms, it is rarely implicated in disease transmission except in the immunocompromised population. Inadvertent exposures to environmental opportunistic pathogens (e.g., Aspergillus spp. and Legionella spp.) or airborne pathogens (e.g., Mycobacterium tuberculosis and varicella-zoster virus) may result in infections with significant morbidity and/or mortality. Lack of adherence to established standards and guidance (e.g., water quality in dialysis, proper ventilation for specialized care areas such as operating rooms, and proper use of disinfectants) can result in adverse patient outcomes in health-care facilities.


The objective is to develop an environmental infection-control guideline that reviews and reaffirms strategies for the prevention of environmentally-mediated infections, particularly among health-care workers and immunocompromised patients. The recommendations are evidence-based whenever possible.

Search Strategies:

The contributors to this guideline reviewed predominantly English-language articles identified from MEDLINE literature searches, bibliographies from published articles, and infection-control textbooks.

Criteria for Selecting Citations and Studies for This Review

Articles dealing with outbreaks of infection due to environmental opportunistic microorganisms and epidemiological- or laboratory experimental studies were reviewed. Current editions of guidelines and standards from organizations (i.e., American Institute of Architects [AIA], Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation [AAMI], and American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers [ASHRAE]) were consulted. Relevant regulations from federal agencies (i.e., U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA]; U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA]; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA]; and U.S. Department of Justice) were reviewed. Some topics did not have well-designed, prospective studies nor reports of outbreak investigations. Expert opinions and experience were consulted in these instances.

Types of Studies

Reports of outbreak investigations, epidemiological assessment of outbreak investigations with control strategies, and in vitro environmental studies were assessed. Many of the recommendations are derived from empiric engineering concepts and reflect industry standards. A few of the infection-control measures proposed cannot be rigorously studied for ethical or logistical reasons.

Outcome Measures

Infections caused by the microorganisms described in this guideline are rare events, and the effect of these recommendations on infection rates in a facility may not be readily measurable. Therefore, the following steps to measure performance are suggested to evaluate these recommendations:

  1. Document whether infection-control personnel are actively involved in all phases of a healthcare facility’s demolition, construction, and renovation. Activities should include performing a risk assessment of the necessary types of construction barriers, and daily monitoring and documenting of the presence of negative airflow within the construction zone or renovation area.
  2. Monitor and document daily the negative airflow in airborne infection isolation rooms (AII) and positive airflow in protective environment rooms (PE), especially when patients are in these rooms.
  3. Perform assays at least once a month by using standard quantitative methods for endotoxin in water used to reprocess hemodialyzers, and for heterotrophic, mesophilic bacteria in water used to prepare dialysate and for hemodialyzer reprocessing.
  4. Evaluate possible environmental sources (e.g., water, laboratory solutions, or reagents) of specimen contamination when nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) of unlikely clinical importance are isolated from clinical cultures. If environmental contamination is found, eliminate the probable mechanisms.
  5. Document policies to identify and respond to water damage. Such policies should result in either repair and drying of wet structural materials within 72 hours, or removal of the wet material if drying is unlikely within 72 hours.
Main Results

Infection-control strategies and engineering controls, when consistently implemented, are effective in preventing opportunistic, environmentally-related infections in immunocompromised populations. Adherence to proper use of disinfectants, proper maintenance of medical equipment that uses water (e.g., automated endoscope reprocessors and hydrotherapy equipment), water-quality standards for hemodialysis, and proper ventilation standards for specialized care environments (i.e., airborne infection isolation [AII], protective environment [PE], and operating rooms [ORs]), and prompt management of water intrusion into facility structural elements will minimize health-care associated infection risks and reduce the frequency of pseudo-outbreaks. Routine environmental sampling is not advised except in the few situations where sampling is directed by epidemiologic principles and results can be applied directly to infection control decisions, and for water quality determinations in hemodialysis.

Reviewers’ Conclusions

Continued compliance with existing environmental infection control measures will decrease the risk of health-care associated infections among patients, especially the immunocompromised, and health-care workers.