Clinical update

Clinical update – hand washing

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence have provided new guidance to understand and monitor the overuse and misuse of antimicrobial medicines.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence have provided new guidance to understand and monitor the overuse and misuse of antimicrobial medicines.


New NICE guidances offers recommendations on how to cut antimicrobial resistace
Picture: iStock

Essential facts

Antimicrobial resistance develops when the medicines are used inappropriately. Global estimates suggest that every year more than 700,000 people die from drug-resistant strains of common bacterial and viral infections, such as the human immunodeficiency virus, tuberculosis and malaria. If antimicrobial resistance continues to increase, this number could rise to ten million a year by 2050.

What’s new

Simple steps such as teaching all children to wash their hands and to manage common infections themselves could help reduce the use of antibiotics, according to new guidance.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommendations aim to educate the general public so they can contribute in the battle against antimicrobial resistance. The guideline recommends children in nurseries and young people living away from home be taught when and how to wash and dry their hands, how to use antimicrobial medicines correctly and the dangers associated with their overuse and misuse.

Signs and symptoms

Without effective antimicrobials, procedures such as organ transplantation, surgery, chemotherapy and diabetes management become high risk. Antimicrobial resistance increases the cost of health care with longer stays in hospitals and more intensive care required.

Cause and risk factors

Antimicrobial resistance happens when microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses change when they are exposed to antimicrobial drugs. As a result, the medicines become ineffective and infections persist in the body, increasing the risk of spread to others. Misuse and overuse of antimicrobials speeds up the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance.

How you can help your patient

Give patients advice on managing the symptoms of self-limiting infections. If antimicrobials are prescribed share verbal and written information about how to use them safely including not sharing them with anyone else or keeping them for another time. Share advice with everyone who has an infection, including how long symptoms are likely to last, what to do if symptoms get worse and when they should ask again for medical advice.

Expert comment

Karen Shaw, infection prevention and control lead for Public Health England antimicrobial resistance programme

‘Infection prevention is a key part of tackling antimicrobial resistance; preventing an infection in the first place means antibiotics are not needed. 

‘One of the most effective ways we can prevent infection is through regular and thorough hand washing, particularly after using the toilet and before eating.

‘Nurses play a valuable role in educating children and families in how to reduce infections by teaching them about the importance of hand hygiene, vaccination and appropriate use of antibiotics for example not using them for viral infections such as coughs and colds.’


Further information

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