An in vitro bacterial surface migration assay underneath sterile barrier material commonly found in a hospital setting

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To determine what barrier material used in hospital neonatal intensive care units most effectively blocks bacterial migration.

Study Design:

Bacterial migration distance was compared across simple and complex solid media using Escherichia coli, an early and common neonatal gut colonizer, and Staphylococcus aureus, a common skin bacterium, across polystyrene, medical-grade silicone, hydrocolloid dressing and transparent film dressing as barrier materials on complex solid media.


Bacterial migration was significantly greater on complex versus simple solid media. Bacteria migrated farthest beneath hydrocolloid dressing and transparent film dressing, while migration underneath polystyrene and medical-grade silicone was generally comparable to no barrier.


Commonly used hydrocolloid dressing and transparent film dressing surprisingly increases bacterial migration, possibly by providing a wet capillary surface for bacteria to attach to or inducing biofilm formation. Using polystyrene or silicone to interface with the site of catheter insertion may best avoid a bacterial wicking phenomenon.

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We thank the Wallace H Coulter Foundation for financial support. We also thank the Stanford Department of Bioengineering for providing the facilities to conduct this study. This project was generously funded by the Stanford-Coulter Translational Research Grant.

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Correspondence to J D Shih.

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Shih, J., Wood, L., Dambkowski, C. et al. An in vitro bacterial surface migration assay underneath sterile barrier material commonly found in a hospital setting. J Perinatol 37, 848–852 (2017) doi:10.1038/jp.2017.28

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