Background Contamination of equipment, colonization of the oropharynx, and microaspiration of secretions are causative factors for ventilator-associated pneumonia. Suctioning and airway management practices may influence the development of ventilator-associated pneumonia.

Objectives To identify pathogens associated with ventilator-associated pneumonia in oral and endotracheal aspirates and to evaluate bacterial growth on oral and endotracheal suctioning equipment.

Methods Specimens were collected from 20 subjects who were orally intubated for at least 24 hours and required mechanical ventilation. At baseline, oral and sputum specimens were obtained for culturing, and suctioning equipment was changed. Specimens from the mouth, sputum, and equipment for culturing were obtained at 24 hours (n = 18) and 48 hours (n = 10).

Results After 24 hours, all subjects had potential pathogens in the mouth, and 67% had sputum cultures positive for pathogens. Suctioning devices were colonized with many of the same pathogens that were present in the mouth. Nearly all (94%) of tonsil suction devices were colonized within 24 hours. Most potential pathogens were gram-positive bacteria. Gram-negative bacteria and antibiotic-resistant organisms were also present in several samples.

Conclusions The presence of pathogens in oral and sputum specimens in most patients supports the notion that microaspiration of secretions occurs. Colonization is a risk factor for ventilator-associated pneumonia. The equipment used for oral and endotracheal suctioning becomes colonized with potential pathogens within 24 hours. It is not known if reusable oral suction equipment contributes to colonization; however, because many bacteria are exogenous to patients’ normal flora, equipment may be a source of cross-contamination.

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