Hand hygiene is as vital for patients as it is for nurses, study finds

Researchers say numerous hospital surfaces carry multi-drug resistant bacteria 

Researchers say numerous hospital surfaces carry multi-drug resistant bacteria 

The study tested items such as nurse call buttons. ​Picture: iStock

Better hand hygiene among patients is crucial to curb the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, researchers from the United States have said.

A study from the University of Michigan (UoM), published this month in Clinical Infectious Diseases, found that almost a third (29%) of objects that patients commonly touch – such as nurse call buttons, bedside trays and other ‘high touch’ surfaces in patients’ hospital rooms – were contaminated with a multi-drug resistant organism.

Early transmission

The research team visited the rooms of 399 general medicine inpatients at two hospitals in Michigan, and took samples from their bodies and often-touched surfaces as early as possible in their stay.

In total, 14% had multi-drug resistant organisms on their hands or nostrils during the early part of their time in hospital.

Patient focus

UoM lead researcher Lona Mody said: ‘Hand hygiene narrative has largely focused on physicians, nurses and other front-line staff, and all the policies and performance measurements have centred on them, and rightfully so.

‘But our findings make an argument for addressing transmission of multi-drug resistant organisms in a way that also involves patients.’

The researchers found that of the six patients in the study who developed an infection with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) while in hospital, all had positive tests for MRSA on their hands and hospital room surfaces.

Using genetic fingerprinting techniques, the researchers examined whether the strains of MRSA bacteria on the patients’ hands were the same as the ones found in their rooms. They discovered that the two matched in nearly all cases – suggesting that transfer to and from the patient was occurring. 

The researchers also looked for superbugs called vancomycin-resistant enterococcus and multi-drug resistant Gram-negative bacteria.  

The question of exactly where patients picked up the bacteria found on their bodies, and were transmitted to the surfaces in their rooms, is not addressed by the study.

A separate study examining multi-drug resistant organisms in skilled nursing facilities by the same team found that privacy curtains – often used to separate patients on a ward, or to shield patients from view when dressing or being examined – are often colonised with superbugs.

Read the study

Multidrug-resistant Organisms in Hospitals: What Is on Patient Hands and in Their Rooms?

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