Hospital patients are at risk of catching infections such as MRSA and C. difficile from "biohazard" pillows which are ridden with 30 different bugs, according to a new study.
Nurses are required to regularly wash their hands and disinfect bed frames and mattresses, but underestimate the risk of infection from dirty pillows, a report said.
But dead skin, dandruff, dirty air and contaminated fluids found on pillows in hospital wards expose patients to the risk of diseases ranging from seasonal flu to chickenpox, hepatitis and even leprosy, it was claimed.
The study by The Barts and The London NHS Trust found 30 different types of infection in a sample of pillows taken from hospital wards, posing a significant risk of infection.
While used linen and bedding is changed and laundered between patients and is routinely cleaned, the study found a "very high and unacceptable percentage" of damaged pillows on three test wards.
Tears to the lining or stitching of pillows mean they cannot be effectively cleaned and patients could be exposed to infection through the mouth, nose, eyes and ears, the report said.
Germs are released through tears and the stitching of standard NHS pillows when pressure is applied – for example when a patient lays their head down, it added.