By MICHAEL MILLENSON
If you think the grim coronavirus death toll is causing health care workers everywhere to always wash their hands, think again.
A recent research letter published in The Journal of Hospital Infection examined whether it’s “possible to achieve 100 percent hand hygiene compliance during the Covid-19 pandemic.” The medical center involved in the research, Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong, had reached a pre-Covid-19 hand hygiene rate of over 75 percent.
Yet the hospital’s goal of complete compliance proved surprisingly elusive. In one pediatric ward devoted to suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patients, doctors and nurses followed hand hygiene rules 100 percent of the time, but in another ward with similar patients and staff, compliance was 83 percent, or about one-fifth less.
Given Covid-19’s risk to providers as well as patients, this was “unexpected,” the researchers admitted.
The Queen Mary study supports what infection control experts have long maintained: awareness isn’t enough. Doctors and nurses, particularly during a pandemic, understand that hand hygiene is “the most important intervention” to reduce the staggering death toll from infections, as the American Journal of Infection Control put it.
Is the New York Giants bathroom more sanitary than your hospital room? Could be. And that player cleanliness may even have helped send the team to the Super Bowl.
Freakonomics co-author and self-confessed germophobe Stephen Dubner, working on a Football Freakonomics segment for the National Football League, noticed that every urinal in the football Giants’ bathroom had a plastic pump bottle of hand sanitizer perched on top – a phenomenon he promptly documented photographically.
Health care-associated infections cause more than 98,000 patient deaths every year. Yet as I’ve noted previously, the guy who just used the toilet at the train station is way more likely to have clean hands than the guy walking up to your bed – or into the operating room – at the local hospital. That’s based on my comparing hospital sanitation with the results of a surreptitious survey by researchers from Harris Interactive of more than 6,000 adults using restrooms at six high-volume sites across the country.
At New York City’s Grand Central Station and Penn Station, only 80 percent of men and women washed up. However, even Atlanta’s Turner Field, where just 65 percent of men washed their hands, looked positively sterile compared to hospitals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that baseline compliance for hand hygiene was just 26 percent in intensive care units and 36 percent in non-ICUs.