Everyday objects used frequently in hospitals such as pens, patient notes and computer keyboards could be helping the spread of the MRSA superbug, an expert has warned.
A study by University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust found charts, case notes, bins, pens and keyboards on an intensive care unit were contaminated with MRSA.
Researchers also found the bug lurking on staff aprons and on their hands.
Patients in intensive care are most at risk from hospital-acquired infections, which kill at least 5,000 people a year in the UK.
Dr Peter Wilson, a consultant microbiologist at UCLH, outlined his research on how the hospital environment contributes to MRSA transmission at the Health Protection Agency's annual conference at the University of Warwick.
He said that intensive care patients were handled frequently, meaning that hand hygiene was particularly important to stopping MRSA spreading.
But Dr Wilson said that cleaning hands as often as was needed was very difficult.
"If 100 per cent compliance were enforced, 33 minutes in every hour would be spent cleaning the hands," he said.
Samples taken from the intensive care unit showed MRSA contamination on a variety of essential hospital items - but not necessarily ones that are easily cleaned, such as paper notes.
Past research has also raised concerns about MRSA being spread through staff clothes, including doctors' ties.
Dr Wilson said: "Once the organism is stuck on to something, unless it is cleaned, it is there for 80 days - that is how long it can survive."
Other tests carried out by UCLH using a contaminated glove found that if someone had MRSA on their hands, the bacteria would be left on the following four surfaces touched.
Dr Wilson said: "At UCLH we have reduced the rate of blood infections with MRSA and the number of MRSA wound infections by 59 per cent since 2001.
"Widespread use of alcohol hand gel, teaching of aseptic technique, wound surveillance and screening of patients before surgery have contributed.
"We are about to greatly increase screening using a new rapid method and expect rates to fall further."
Findings from a European Commission-funded study also presented at the HPA conference showed that levels of antibiotic use and infection control measures have a significant impact on MRSA rates in hospitals across Europe.
The Antibiotic Resistance, Prevention and Control, involving the HPA and Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, studied around 300 European hospitals. The team found those with the highest prevalence of MRSA, which is resistant to most antibiotics, also had the greatest levels of antibiotic use.
The researchers also found strong evidence that hospitals using specific infection control measures, such as isolating patients, had lower rates of the superbug. Southern and Western Europe had the highest rates of MRSA.
Professor Barry Cookson, an MRSA expert at the HPA, said their work showed that the use of specific classes of antibiotics was linked to higher rates of MRSA.