Privacy curtains that often separate medical care spaces in hospitals and clinics are frequently contaminated with potentially dangerous bacteria, according to a recent U.S. study.

Health care providers often touch these curtains after they have washed their hands and then proceed to touch the patient.

To avoid spreading these bacteria, which can include the dangerous MRSA super-bug, health care providers should make sure to wash their hands after routine contact with the curtains and before interacting with patients, said Michael Ohl, from the University of Iowa.

There is growing recognition that the hospital environment plays an important role in the transmission of infections in the health care setting, Ohl said.

American researchers said these curtains often hang for a long time and are difficult to disinfect.

It's clear that these (privacy curtains) are potentially important sites of contamination because they are frequently touched by patients and providers, Ohl told Reuters Health.

In their study, Ohl and his team took 180 swab cultures from 43 privacy curtains twice a week for three weeks.

Researchers also marked the curtains to keep track of when they were changed.

The infected curtains were located in the medical and surgical intensive care units and on a medical ward of the University of Iowa Hospitals, study authors noted.

Tests detected Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, including the especially dangerous methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), as well as various species of Enterococci, Enterococcus, a gut bacteria resistant to the newer antibiotic vancomycin, authors said.

According to the study, a significant amount of contamination occurred very rapidly after new curtains were placed, 13 of which were placed during the study, 12 showed contamination within a week.

MRSA was located from one in five curtains, and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci from four in 10, where roughly all privacy curtains tested - 41 out of 43 - were contaminated on at least one occasion.