Nosocomial infections are a major problem confronting neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). This study was conducted to determine if DNA markers designed from the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV 35S DNA) can serve as surrogate indicators of nosocomial pathogen transmission in NICUs.


Regions of cauliflower CaMV 35S promoter DNA were designed to serve as surrogate markers of microbial transmission pathways. Each of 6 pods within the NICU under study houses 8 newborn infants. DNA marker was placed on the telephone handle in only 1 of the 6 NICU pods (study pod). Bedside caregivers were blinded as to when placebo or marker were placed in the pod. Thirty-two samples were collected from predetermined sites within each pod at 0, 4, 8, 24, and 48 hours and 7 days after DNA placement. Similar sites were sampled in each of the 6 pods. Additional samples were collected concurrently from areas of the NICU segregated from direct patient care. Polymerase chain reactions were performed on collected samples, and products were analyzed by agarose gel electrophoresis.


One thousand three hundred samples of the environment and hands of personnel were collected and analyzed. Within the study pod, 58% of sites tested positive for the DNA marker throughout all time points; positive sites peaked at 8 hours (78%) and declined to 23% positive at 7 days. The other 5 pods had a mean of 18% of sites positive throughout the 7 days and exhibited a similar decline throughout time. The most consistently positive sites within all pods were the blood gas analyzers, computer mice, telephone handles, medical charts, ventilator knobs, door handles, radiant warmer control buttons, patient monitors, and personnel hands. In areas outside the pods, the nurse's station, resident physician charting area, changing room, and staff break room had a mean of 50% positive sites throughout all time points.


DNA markers proved useful as safe, surrogate indicators of microorganism transmission within and outside pods in the NICU. We speculate that utilization of these techniques in the hospital environment will provide important information about transmission of pathogens in the NICU, assist in developing and enforcing cleaning procedures, and permit testing of educational intervention programs targeting a decrease in nosocomial infections. nosocomial infection, neonatal intensive care, DNA marker, polymerase chain reaction, infection control.

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