The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 5% to 10% of hospitalized patients develop a health care–associated infection (HAI). HAI is among the top 10 causes of death in the United States, and researchers estimate that $4.5 billion to$6.5 billion extra are spent treating HAI each year. The cost is even higher in patients who develop methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections.

Patients requiring intensive care are at particularly high risk for acquiring HAI. Several factors likely contribute to this problem: increasing rates of antimicrobial resistance, progressively more complex medical procedures, technology that places patients at risk for device-related infections, and a rising elderly and immunocompromised patient population. Yet even simple environmental objects such as bath basins have been shown to be a reservoir for bacteria and may serve as a potential source of transmission for HAI.

Preventing HAI has become...