Study Finds Hospital Patients Don't Wash Their Hands Enough

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THURSDAY, Oct. 9, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Hospital patients don't wash their hands often, even when they use the restroom or eat meals, potentially increasing their risk of getting an infection, a new study shows.

"This is important because getting patients to wash their hands more could potentially reduce their risk of picking up infections in the hospital," principal investigator Dr. Jocelyn Srigley, an assistant professor of medicine at McMaster University Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and associate medical director for infection prevention and control at Hamilton Health Sciences, said in a university news release.

The study looked at almost 300 adult patients who were being treated in multi-organ transplant units in a Canadian acute care hospital. The researchers found that patients washed their hands about a third of the time in the bathroom, 40 percent of the time at meals, and only 3 percent of the time when they used kitchens in their units, the researchers reported. Additionally, they only washed their hands 3 percent of the time when entering their rooms and 7 percent of the time when leaving, according to the study.

The researchers came up with their numbers by analyzing soap and sanitizer dispensers that are equipped with sensors. That allowed them to observe patients without them knowing they were being watched.

Many germs are easily spread in hospitals. However, "at the hospital where this study was conducted, patients were not given any specific information about hand hygiene," Srigley said.

"We can't expect patients to know when to wash their hands if we don't inform them, so it's not surprising that they wash their hands infrequently. In particular, for washing hands when entering and exiting their room, it's not something that I would expect patients to think of doing unless they were educated and reminded to do that," she said.

The study appears in the Oct. 2 issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology..

More information

For more about the germs that people can pick up in hospitals, visit the U.S> Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.