'Off the rails': hospital bed rail design, contamination, and the evaluation of their microbial ecology

J Hosp Infect. 2019 Sep;103(1):e16-e22. doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2019.06.008. Epub 2019 Jun 21.


Microbial contamination of the near-patient environment is an acknowledged reservoir for nosocomial pathogens. The hospital bed and specifically bed rails have been shown to be frequently and heavily contaminated in observational and interventional studies. Whereas the complexity of bed rail design has evolved over the years, the microbial contamination of these surfaces has been incompletely evaluated. In many published studies, key design variables are not described, compromising the extrapolation of results to other settings. This report reviews the evolving structure of hospital beds and bed rails, the possible impact of different design elements on microbial contamination and their role in pathogen transmission. Our findings support the need for clearly defined standardized assessment protocols to accurately assess bed rail and similar patient zone surface levels of contamination, as part of environmental hygiene investigations.

Keywords: Bed rails; Decontamination; Disinfection; High-touch objects; Intensive care unit; Study design.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Beds / microbiology*
  • Cross Infection / transmission
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious
  • Equipment Contamination*
  • Hospitals*
  • Humans