In the hospital? Wash your hands!

Created date

June 27th, 2019
A person washes their hands and lathers up with soap.

A person washes their hands and lathers up with soap.

Significant efforts have been made to control the spread of so-called superbugs in hospitals over the past couple of decades. Simple but thorough handwashing and the use of hand sanitizers by hospital staff have been found to significantly reduce infection rates among patients.

Those measures, however, may be only part of the solution, according to a new study sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers found that patients should be just as vigilant with handwashing. 

Search for superbugs

The researchers set out to determine whether patients had superbugs, or multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs) bacteria, on their bodies or in their rooms. The team tested 399 patients at two hospitals, taking samples from their bodies and frequently touched surfaces in their rooms. They attempted to gather the samples as early as possible in the patients’ stay. The researchers focused on patients staying on general medicine units—they did not test surgery patients or patients in critical care or other types of units. 

Overall, the researchers found that 14% of the 399 tested patients had MDROs on their hands or nostrils very early in their hospital stay. About one-third of surfaces that patients often touch, such as the call button for the nurse, were positive for superbugs. They also found that another 6% of patients who did not have MDROs on their hands at the beginning of their stay tested positive later on while still in the hospital.

First, the researchers found that strains of certain MDROs found on patients’ hands were the same strains obtained from surfaces in their rooms. They could not, however, determine whether the organisms were in the rooms first, or whether the patients brought the organisms in with them. 

These results show that patients need to be involved in infection control by frequently washing their hands or using hand sanitizer. In addition, the study shows that careful attention needs to be paid to proper environmental cleaning, especially in health care settings where patients’ immune systems may be compromised.