Even after decades of warnings, healthcare workers still do not wash their hands enough. Experts say most caregivers try to follow proper hand hygiene guidelines but fall dramatically short nevertheless.
Now, a new campaign should make it easier to cleanse hands and lower infection rates. That's because government authorities also understand why cleanliness remains a problem: healthcare providers often need to be in five places at once.
"Clean hands are the single most important factor in preventing the spread of dangerous germs and antibiotic resistance in healthcare settings," said Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, director of the CDC. "Hand hygiene saves lives."
The CDC is now recommending "a comprehensive evidence-based approach in hospitals that consists of handwashing with soap and water when the goal is to remove unsightly debris; hand alcohol preps (handrubs) for enhancing appearance and reducing bacterial counts; and gloving when people have contact with blood or other body fluids in accordance with universal precautions."
CDC officials estimate nearly 2 million patients in the United States get an infection in hospitals each year. About 90,000 will die as a result. Acute-care centers are not alone. Infections are also a complication to care in long-term care facilities, clinics and even outpatient dialysis centers.
Improved hand hygiene will help prevent the spread of germs from one patient to another. And since handwashing is not the only solution, the CDC is turning to data showing that healthcare personnel may be more inclined to use alcohol-based handrubs because they are more convenient to use. In fact, recent studies show that handrubs reduce the number of bacteria on the hands more effectively than washing hands with soap and water.
The push for improved cleanliness has been a long time coming, said John Boyce, MD, lead author of the guidelines and the chair of the Hand Hygiene Task Force, representing the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.
"There are over 30 studies in the past 20 years that show healthcare workers have not been able to wash their hands as often as recommended. So this is very well documented," he explained.
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