Ruth Carrico, Ph.D., RN, is clinical director of the UofL Physicians Vaccine and International Travel Center and an associate professor at the UofL School of Medicine.

Ultrasound imaging machines have many uses in healthcare — biopsies, surgical procedures and checking on developing babies, for example.  

But are they kept as clean as they need to be?

New research from the University of Louisville shows hospital infection prevention staff, while confident in their processes, don’t always know the guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting in certain situations. The results were published in the American Journal of Infection Control.

“And what we found is that there was a huge disconnect,” said Dr. Ruth Carrico, an assistant professor at the UofL School of Medicine and author on the paper. “That people are very confident, and yet, when you actually look at their processes, really they were not.”

The UofL researchers conducted an anonymous national survey across 358 health care facilities. The goal was to look at the rapidly growing use of ultrasound in healthcare, and the complicated decision-making that is emerging as to how the machines are to be cleaned and disinfected between uses to prevent infection.

Carrico gives the example of a surgeon who might use ultrasound to guide a needle into an infected joint, followed by a nurse who needs it to insert a sterile device into the bloodstream.

“So you’ll have the same device, then, used for two completely different purposes,” she said. “And if you don’t handle them correctly — if you don’t reprocess, clean and disinfect correctly — then whatever was going on with patient A can now become the problem of patient B.”

Co-author Stephen Furmanek, biostatistician at UofL, said many hospitals in the survey were either not disinfecting appropriately for a procedure that necessitated it, or maybe too much for one that did not.

The survey measured hospital procedures against guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, he said those guidelines did not anticipate the current use of ultrasound probes, and there are no standards or best practices recommended by a national infection prevention society that reflect that use.

“And I think that points to the challenge of new technology, you just have to figure out how to use it effectively and properly,” Furmanek said. “And especially from the infectious diseases perspective, how it could be accidentally transmitting disease.”

Hear more about their work on the UofL Today radio show with Mark Hebert.