Hand hygiene vs. preventable infections

The vast majority of healthcare associated infections are preventable. Let that sink in. 

Yet, 16 hours into writing this, the Independent reported that 369 Covid-19 deaths were linked to outbreaks in UK hospitals or nursing homes this month alone, and the first covid-19 outbreak occurred in a U.S. nursing home. These outbreaks are patients that pick up this deadly virus suddenly,  within 48 hours of being admitted to a healthcare organization, and transfer it amongst others. 

The hospital is where we are meant to get healthy and have our ailments tended to. Yet, people seeking treatment, as well as the healthcare workers that are serving them with all of their passion and skill, are getting preventable, transmitted diseases. 

We said before, most of these are preventable. There are patients that can arrive asymptomatic and spread this disease. There is also the threat to patients with low immune systems getting increased exposure from longer hospital stays, but for those others, proper hygiene, social distancing, and the other infection prevention measures that are commonplace in a post-2020 world, are absolutely necessary to preventing outbreaks. 

The history of outbreaks

If you love science and history, it is fair to say that you are familiar with the many plagues and epidemics that have ravaged human history and our mythos. Two scientific studies cite and discuss the now modern-day location of Hamin Mangha, in northeast China where Livescience labels a “prehistoric disaster” occurred. An anthropological team at Jilin University studied 97 human remains, stuffed into a 5,000 year old house because the death toll from an acute infectious disease was terrorizing lives faster than the dead could be buried. 

History.com shares the gruesome details of “pandemics that changed history” dating as far back as 430 B.C. in a communicable disease spread that took with it two-thirds of the population of Libya, Ethiopia, and Egypt. 

Another interesting look into our history of outbreaks follows Ottoman Scientists. The article states that “However, it is not the first time that humanity has had to deal with a disease ravaging the globe, and there are some striking parallels between current policies for the coronavirus and those adopted during the Ottoman era.” It goes on to discuss public safety measures including vaccine development and distribution, bans and close downs, and quarantines.

All of this was before hand hygiene champions, a Hungarian doctor, working in Vienna General Hospital in 1846, Ignaz Semmelweis, who later earned the title of father of hand hygiene; and Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War, prioritized hand hygiene for infection prevention. It would take nearly a century for this to be recognized and endorsed by major institutions such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who “heralded the first nationally endorsed hand hygiene guidelines, and many more have followed” (as detailed in an article by the Global Handwashing partnership).

Modern day outbreaks 

As of today, the United States, India, Brazil, Russia, the United Kingdom and France have the global highest case counts of Covid-19 on a worldwide basis. When contagion spreads we are all at risk for infection from outbreaks but nonpharmaceutical interventions that we all know and are capable of, are the first line of defense. 

According to the ECDC, around one third of countries are seeing increases in hospital or ICU admissions and/or occupancy due to COVID-19, serving as a reminder of public health advice and social distancing measures being absolutely crucial. 

The vast majority of healthcare-associated infections are preventable. Let’s work to prevent them. 

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