Hospital patients rarely wash their hands, may spread disease

Hospital patients rarely wash their hands, may spread disease

(Reuters Health) – Although healthcare workers are urged to wash their hands often and hand sanitizer dispensers are everywhere in hospitals, patients are less scrupulous and may be contributing to the spread of hospital-acquired infections, say Canadian researchers.

After tracking hundreds of patients in a transplant ward for nearly a year, the study team found that hand washing followed less than a third of bathroom visits, and washing or hand-sanitizer use happened only rarely after patients entered or left a room.

“We know that certain infections can be spread on people’s hands, and hand washing is an important way to prevent those infections,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Jocelyn Srigley, associate medical director of infection prevention and control at Hamilton Health Sciences in Hamilton, Ontario.

One in 25 hospital patients has at least one infection contracted at the hospital at any given time, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates there were 722,000 cases of hospital-acquired infection in 2011, many of them serious or even life-threatening.

The role of healthcare workers in transferring infectious microbes from place to place and person to person in hospitals has been well-studied, and staff are trained to take measures to avoid spreading infections.

But just two previous studies have looked at the potential for patients to spread infections in hospitals, to others and themselves, Srigley and her colleagues write in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

The Canadian study team tracked 279 adult patients in a multiorgan transplant ward using tags attached to hospital ID bracelets that sent out ultrasound signals. Wireless receivers were installed throughout the ward to pick up the signals and track each patient’s location. The system also detected every time a soap or hand sanitizer dispenser was used.

They found that patients washed their hands about 30 percent of the time during bathroom visits, 40 percent of the time during mealtimes, 3 percent of the time while using kitchens on the wards, 3 percent of the time when entering their own rooms and 7 percent when exiting their room.

Women washed their hands more often than men, and were
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