May 05, 2017
4 min read

Hand Hygiene Day: WHO highlights importance of hand hygiene on antibiotic resistance

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Today on Hand Hygiene Day, observed each year on May 5, WHO is promoting its annual campaign, “Save Lives: Clean Your Hands.” This year’s theme, “Fight antibiotic resistance … it’s in your hands,” highlights the role of infection prevention and control practices such as handwashing in preventing the spread of antibiotic resistance.

According to WHO, adequate hand hygiene can reduce the risk for health-care associated infections (HAIs) and has the potential to save 8 million lives each year in hospitals alone. However, the CDC reported that, on average, health care providers perform hand hygiene practices less than half of the time that they should.

WHO estimates that one out of every 10 patients contracts an infection while receiving medical care. Moreover, up to 32% of patients undergoing surgery develop a postoperative infection, 51% of which are resistant to antibiotics. To prevent further spread of antibiotic resistance, WHO is urging policymakers to make infection prevention and hand hygiene a national policy priority. The organization is also calling on health care facilities and leaders in infection control to implement WHO’s core components for infection prevention.

Hand Hygiene Day is observed annually on May 5 to raise awareness of the importance of adequate handwashing in health care settings.

“[HAIs] are one of the most frequent adverse events in health care delivery and are a major public health problem that affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide,” Mahmoud Fikri, MD, PhD, regional director for the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, said in a press release. “[HAIs] cause harm and suffering that are easily avoided. They also result in additional financial burden and sometimes even long-term disabilities or death. I urge all health care workers to ensure adequate hand hygiene and all health care facilities to join in the “SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands” campaign and commit to improving hand hygiene practices to help save more lives.”

To mark the occasion of Hand Hygiene Day, Infectious Disease News has compiled a list of the top stories that demonstrate the importance of hand hygiene and raise awareness of missed opportunities to comply with standard recommendations over the past year.

Outpatient clinic staff skip hand hygiene 37% of the time

Study findings published in the American Journal of Infection Control showed that physicians, nurses and medical staff skipped practicing hand hygiene 37% of the time in outpatient clinics in New Mexico. In addition, they failed to follow safe injection practices almost 34% of the time.

Photo of Deborah Thompson
Deborah Thompson

“This project raised awareness of expectations for safe care in outpatient settings among medical students and community health care providers,” Deborah Thompson, MD, MSPH, at the New Mexico Department of Health, told Infectious Disease News. “The project also provides a meaningful assessment of infection prevention policies and practices that could be used by the clinics themselves for quality improvement and used to target areas for public health interventions.” Read more.

Higher bacterial burden increases E. coli transmission odds

As Escherichia coli bacterial counts increased on one health care worker’s hand, so did the extent of transmission to another in a recent study. Researchers say the results may offer a transmission threshold leading to more effective hand sanitation among health care workers.

“Under the described experimental conditions, at least 1 log10 [colony-forming unit (cfu)] of E. coli must be present on hands to be potentially transmitted to another person,” they wrote. Read more.

Electronic monitoring system for hand hygiene reduces MRSA rates

J. William Kelly, MD
J. William Kelly

Researchers from South Carolina reported that electronic hand hygiene monitoring based on WHO’s My 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene led to a significant decrease in health care-associated MRSA infections.

“There are very few studies connecting hand hygiene with patient outcomes, and we were able to show a direct correlation between increased compliance rates and a reduction in hospital-onset MRSA infections,” J. William Kelly, MD, infectious disease specialist at Greenville Health System and principal investigator of the study, told Infectious Disease News. Read more.

VIDEO: Alcohol-based hand rub campaign led to 'tremendous change' in global hand hygiene

WHO representative Didier Pittet, MD, professor and director of the infection control program at the University of Geneva Hospitals, recaps his featured discussion on hand hygiene at ASM Microbe. Pittet said that WHO’s campaign promoting alcohol-based hand rub over washing has been largely successful, and has prevented approximately half of all sanitation-related illnesses and deaths worldwide. Watch video.

Images triggering disgust improve hand hygiene compliance at hospital

Hand hygiene compliance rates improved among health care workers at a Detroit hospital after they were shown images of bacterial growth similar to the levels of contamination on their own skin, according to study results presented at the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology annual conference.

“The implication for clinicians is that hand hygiene is more than just washing their hands before and after contact with their patients,” Ashley Gregory, MLS, infection prevention specialist for the Henry Ford Health System, told Infectious Disease News. “Their stethoscope, mobile phone and other devices can become contaminated and thus can contaminate their hands at any given point in their interaction.”  Read more.

Alcohol-based hand hygiene confers no additional benefit after 30 seconds

Although the effectiveness of alcohol-based hand rub increases with duration, practicing WHO’s suggested technique for longer than 30 seconds may not confer any additional sanitation benefits, according to data presented at ASM Microbe. Furthermore, a separate study quantifying the spread of Escherichia coli between health care workers’ hands suggests a direct relationship between bacterial load and the risk for bacterial spread. Read more.