A Contagious Cycle

This recent article (Doctors Say a Washing Machine Helped Spread a Superbug at a Maternity Ward) reminded me how even things that are supposed to clean and disenfect can unknowingly spread superbugs.

According to the article, there was a group of newborns in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) carrying a unique strain of resistant bacteria called Klebsiella oxytoca. The germ can live harmlessly in our guts but in a place like a hospital where people with weakened immune systems could be exposed to the germ, it can also cause serious life-threatening infections.

Ultimately, the reason this germ was spreading throughout the NICU and children’s ward was traced to a washing machine. Washing machines usually wash our clothes at high enough temperatures to kill off most germs but new energy-efficient machines lower the temperature of the water during certain cycles. The authors think that items in the washing machine were contaminated with water from the final rinse cycle, “which ran unheated and detergent-free water through the detergent compartment.”

What I like about this idea is that it can be used in multiple scenarios.

Something like the article in a hospital setting with babies, kids, people or even elderly patients.


A sports team where their uniforms and towels are all washed together.


A refugee camp where a bug unknowingly is spread to families


A sorority/fraternity house



Who wants to talk more about how you can use this idea in your current or next story?

[Credit: flickr/Kim Siever]
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