Patient Hand Washing And Superbugs

New research has shown that patients take more than astronomical medical bills away from hospital visits; they take away superbugs as well. This research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine by Jie Cao et al., found that 24.1% of patients moving from the hospital to a post acute care facility had at least one multidrug resistant organism on their hands. This shouldn’t be too shocking, as it is well known that hospitals are riddled with microbes resistant to several kinds of antimicrobials. This NPR article written by Kaiser’s Shefali Luthra echoed the theme of the research letter by mentioning that patients aren’t expected to adhere to the same hand washing standards as doctors and nurses are. This could be a big culprit in the transmission of superbugs outside of the hospital setting. With a focus on hygiene, the research letter does make some great suggestions for decreasing the spread of superbugs, but I am skeptical. Superbugs can exist not just on the skin and clothes, but even inside people (e.g. guts); hand washing will not address these ways of being a carrier of a superbug. There is also the daunting reality that superbugs are everywhere. I would be curious to know what percent of the normal population carries a multidrug resistant organism on their hands, not just those who have been in a health care facility. I imagine it would be closer to the 24.1% statistic than we’d like. I also have doubts that hand washing will significantly decrease the presence of superbugs on patients’ hands. Not only do most people not wash their hands properly/effectively, but the superbug may already be resistant to the antimicrobial soap used in the first place.

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Katherine Dahlhausen

Katie Dahlhausen is a PhD student in Jonathan Eisen’s lab and is interested in the biogeography and mechanisms of antibiotic resistance. Find out more at her Twitter feed .