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Preventing hospital acquired infections in the MRI room

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine uses magnets and radio waves to view organs and other structures within the human body. This essential piece of equipment is important for the proper diagnosis of a spectrum of diseases and injuries. As with all hospital environments, the MRI room must be cleaned thoroughly between patients to reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs).

An average of 165,000 Australians experience an HAI each year. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone within the nation's healthcare industry to consider this number and what it means for public health. Reducing the likelihood of infection in a healthcare environment is key to reducing the damage caused by the global pandemic.

Cleaning MRI machines poses unique challenges and risks. Any ferromagnetic materials in the room could cause severe injuries to people nearby if they are captured in an active machine's powerful magnetic field. This means that anyone who enters the room, including cleaning staff, should be aware of the risks and prepared to mitigate them appropriately.

What are MRI machines used for?

MRI scanners produce high-definition images of soft tissues, such as the brain, muscles, ligaments, tendons and nerves. Unlike computed tomography (CT) scanners, which use X-rays and produce radiation to image bony structures, MRI scanners are radiation-free. That means MRI scanners safer for patients who require frequent imaging.

COVID-19 adds another dimension to medical imaging and the risk of infection transmission. Imaging is indicated for patients with COVID-19 and worsening respiratory status. NSW Health advises that MRI should only be performed when absolutely necessary because of the challenges associated with deep cleaning MRI scanners

Why do MRI machines represent a critical infection vector?

Like a hospital bed, MRI machines come into direct contact with patients. That means that patients with bacterial or viral infections could potentially leave microbes behind after undergoing an MRI scan. In addition, MRI technicians brace patients with gel pads and cushions to keep their bodies still during the scan. Over time, these pads can become cracked and damaged, which makes them more likely to become a vector for infection.

For example, if a patient with suspected COVID-19 were to cough inside the MRI machine, active SARS-CoV-2 viral particles could end up inside the cracks in the supportive pads. Then, the next patient to use the machine could become infected. Therefore, it's highly important to clean both the room and the MRI scanner after each use. However, the magnetic nature of the machine poses unique challenges for hospital cleaning staff.

What risks should cleaning staff understand before cleaning the MRI room?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, MR imaging technology does not pose any inherent risks to patients or anyone else who comes in contact with the machines. MR imaging does not use ionizing radiation. However, the extremely powerful magnet within the MRI machine can create safety concerns.

When active, an MRI machine creates a very powerful static magnetic field. This field will attract any magnetic objects within the room. That includes small items like car keys as well as large items like metal chairs. These objects can become projectiles that could potentially harm someone who comes between the object and the MRI machine.

For example, Live Science reported that a Mumbai man was killed after entering an MRI room while holding an oxygen cylinder. The canister was pulled rapidly toward the machine where it was damaged, releasing liquid oxygen into the room. 

Because of the potential for serious injury, every MRI machine should be treated as if it is active. Cleaning staff should never assume that the magnetic field is inactive. Out of an abundance of caution, cleaning staff should never bring any ferromagnetic equipment into the room.

HYGEN microfibre removes microbes from high-touch surfaces.HYGEN microfibre removes microbes from high-touch surfaces.

What equipment is needed to safely clean an MRI room?

MRI equipment comes in direct contact with patients. As a result, it is essential that all cleaning staff wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when entering the room. In addition, technologists should thoroughly sanitise their hands before and after coming into contact with patients.

Recent studies, including one published in the American Journal of Infection Control, have identified the potential for contaminated hospital floors to contribute to pathogen transmission. This has led to improvements in floor cleaning with increasing numbers of hospitals using microfibre mops that are proven to remove pathogenic material. It makes sense therefore, to ensure that any buckets, carts and handles in the medical imaging suite are MRI-safe.

Although the MRI machine should be turned off for cleaning, there is always a risk associated with powerful magnets. Therefore, it is important that cleaning staff have equipment that is safe to use around MRI machines. A potential list of equipment includes:

  • Microfibre damp mops 
  • Microfibre dust mops
  • Disposable microfibre cloths
  • Plastic microfibre charging buckets
  • Plastic cleaning carts

With the right equipment, cleaning staff can follow the standard MRI cleaning procedure, as recommended by experienced radiologist Dr. Peter A. Rothschilds:

  • After assisting each patient, cleaning staff should sanitise all equipment that came into contact with the patient, regardless of whether they are suspected to be contagious. This includes wiping down the magnetic bore of the MRI machine and pads used to keep the patient in place.
  • Any pads that are damaged in the course of use should be replaced immediately. Cracks and tears in the pads can be difficult to sanitise and may become a reservoir of infection.
  • If bodily fluids are left in the room, cleaning staff should wear PPE appropriate for a biohazard and follow applicable sanitisation policies.
  • Any furniture in the room should be wiped down and sanitised.
  • Lastly, the floors should be wiped clean, starting from the back of the room, and working toward the door.
  • To keep patients and staff safe, staff should document each cleaning session and keep a list of anyone who entered the room. This is especially important for conducting contact tracing.

What are the advantages of cleaning an MRI machine with microfibre cloth?

The COVID-19 pandemic poses critical issues for MRI technologists and other hospital staff. Because infected patients may need to undergo an MRI scan to assess their condition, the risk of transmitting the disease to staff members and other patients is higher than usual.

The Society for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance (SCMR) recommends that anyone who enters an MRI room during or after a visit from a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 positive patient should wear PPE. That includes wearing a face mask, visor and gloves.

After a patient leaves the MRI room, SCMR recommends waiting 20-60 minutes to allow for small aerosol particles to clear from the air. After this period, the room can be decontaminated per the hospital's standard procedures. At that point, it is best to use disposable microfibre cloths, which offer several advantages over traditional cloth rags.

Traditional cleaning rags are typically made from cotton fibres. Although these fibres may look extremely fine to the naked eye, they are quite large compared to microbes which include harmful bacteria, fungi and viruses. At a microscopic level, cotton fibres are too large to capture and remove microbes. Instead, they push around bacteria and viruses, leaving them on the surface. This is a problem even when cleaning staff use chemical agents to kill microbes. Dead bacteria can serve as a food source for other microbes, allowing infectious materials to become a threat to vulnerable patients.

Microfibre eliminates this risk by actually removing microbes from surfaces. In a test conducted by an independent party, Rubbermaid HYGEN disposable microfibre cloths were able to remove 99.99% of human coronavirus OC43. The product has not been tested on COVID-19. In addition, new HYGEN cloths provide up to 50% more coverage, allowing cleaning staff to work more efficiently while using fewer resources.

Rubbermaid Commercial Products are the right cleaning solution for MRI rooms

Maintaining hygienic conditions in MRI rooms is essential for patient and staff safety. The Rubbermaid HYGEN microfibre system is designed to be safe for use around MRI machines, allowing trained cleaning staff to remove potential reservoirs of infection without putting themselves at risk. Containing no ferromagnetic metals, the HYGEN microfibre system is the ideal solution for cleaning this essential piece of medical equipment.

Our HYGEN microfibre cloths, damp mops, dry mops and disposable solutions are safe to use in MRI and X-ray rooms. Check out our resource centre to learn more about the superior cleaning performance and improved productivity offered by the HYGEN Disposable Microfibre system.

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