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Environmental contamination by Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae: is it time to change our infection control practices? Results of a regional study


Objectives Nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) are highly sensitive for the detection of Chlamydia trachomatis (CT) and Neisseria gonorrhoeae (NG) DNA/ribosomal RNA (rRNA). Previous studies have demonstrated contamination of surfaces in sexual health clinics (SHCs) with CT/NG. False positive results can occur if patient samples are contaminated by environmental DNA/rRNA. This can have a dramatic impact on patients’ lives and relationships. Previous attempts to reduce contamination, through staff training alone, have been unsuccessful. We aimed to investigate environmental contamination levels in SHCs and to assess a two-armed intervention aimed at reducing surface contamination.

Methods Questionnaires were sent to 10 SHCs. Six clinics, with differing characteristics, were selected to participate in sample collection. Each clinic followed standardised instructions to sample surfaces using a CT/NG NAAT swab. Clinics were invited to introduce the two-armed intervention. The first arm was cleaning with a chlorine-based cleaning solution once daily. The second arm involved introducing clinic-specific changes to reduce contamination.

Results 7/10 (70%) clinics completed the questionnaire. Overall, 88/263 (33%) swabs were positive for CT/NG. Clinics 1, 3 and 4 had high levels of contamination, with 28/64 (44%), 17/33 (52%) and 30/52 (58%) swabs testing positive, respectively. Clinics 2 and 6 had lower levels of contamination, with 7/46 (15%) and 6/35 (17%), respectively. 0/33 (0%) of swabs were positive at clinic 5 and this was the only clinic already using a chlorine-based solution to clean all surfaces and delivering twice-yearly clinic-specific infection control training. Following both intervention arms at clinic 1, 2/50 (4%, p<0.0001) swabs tested positive for CT/NG. Clinic 4 introduced each arm separately. After the first intervention, 13/52 (25%, p=0.003) swabs tested positive and following the second arm 4/50 (8%, p<0.0001) swabs were positive.

Conclusions Environmental contamination is a concern in SHCs. We recommend that all SHCs monitor contamination levels and, if necessary, consider using chlorine-based cleaning products and introduce clinic-specific changes to address environmental contamination.

  • Chalmydia trachomatis
  • nucleic acid amplification techniques
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae
  • specimen handling
  • diagnostic techniques and procedures

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplemental information. Not applicable.

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