One in four older patients maybe bringing healthcare-associated infections back from hospital to their care home via their hands, according to US researchers.
They called for patients to be educated about handwashing and encouraged to do so in the same way that healthcare staff have been for some time.
“It’s time to include patients in their own hand hygiene performance and education”
The study focused on patients who temporarily stayed in a care facility for rehabilitation before fully returning home after a stay in hospital for a medical or surgical issue.
The research team, from the University of Michigan, studied 357 patients. They found 24% had at least one multidrug-resistant organism on their hands when they checked into the care facility.
Researchers tested the same patients’ hands after two weeks and then monthly, for up to six months or until their discharge home.
They found that, not only did these organisms persist, but even more patients acquired superbugs on their hands – up from 24% to 34%.
The researchers noted that a high level of superbugs on patient hands increased the chance they would be transmitted to other vulnerable patients and healthcare workers, and that frequent antibiotic use in care homes would help them “flourish”.
Lead author Dr Lona Mody said: “We’ve been educating healthcare workers for decades about hand hygiene, and these numbers show it’s time to include patients in their own hand hygiene performance and education.”
Hospital patients taking ‘superbugs’ into care homes
“We need to build on the overarching principles we’ve already developed with adult learning theories and bring them to patients,” she added.
One strategy could include physically showing the superbugs that grow on people’s hands, by growing them in the laboratory, the researchers suggested in a letter published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
“People are always surprised when they see how much can grow on their hands – and how they can effectively clear these organisms by simply washing hands appropriately,” said Dr Mody.
She has previously developed a toolkit for care facilities to use in training employees to control infections, called the TIP study toolkit. It could also be adapted for patients, said the researchers.