Study finds direct link between use of alcohol hand gel and reduction in hospital infections

Hospitals whose healthcare workers had access to alcohol gel to disinfect hands had a decreased risk of hospital- associated infections in their patients compared to hospitals whose staff did not have a regular alcohol hand gel program, according to a new study from Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle and published in the April 1 edition of Pediatrics.

The study, including data from 31 children's hospitals and more than 48,000 patients, set out to examine the differences in infection control practices among healthcare facilities, describe the rates of hospital- associated infections in these institutions, and determine which infection control policies were associated with lower rates of hospital-associated infections. Data was restricted to analyze only those patients hospitalized for elective or semi-elective surgical procedures, under the hypothesis that these patients were least likely to have been admitted with preexisting respiratory or gastrointestinal infections and because elective procedures are often postponed in the presence of an illness.

Hospital-associated infections included gastrointestinal (e.g., diarrhea, Clostridium difficile and rotavirus) and respiratory (e.g., pneumonia, bronchiolitis, respiratory syncytial virus and croup) infections

Overall, approximately 2.3% of the patients studied acquired respiratory infections and 0.8% had gastrointestinal infections. The percent of patients developing hospital-associated infections varied significantly between hospitals, ranging between <1% to 6%. Similarly, many infection control practices varied between institutions. The investigators identified a significant reduction in gastrointestinal infections at healthcare facilities where staff used alcohol hand gel to sanitize hands. Patients at hospitals whose staff had access to alcohol hand gel for the entire study period had a 40% lower risk of developing gastrointestinal infections.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 2 million patients acquire hospital-associated infections each year and 90,000 of these patients die as a result of their infections. Given the benefits of alcohol hand gel, the CDC now calls for its use as the primary mode of hand hygiene in health care settings, except when hands are visibly soiled. Despite this recommendation, many studies have shown that health care workers perform hand hygiene less than 50 percent of the times they should.

"Our study supports the importance of alcohol hand gel and the role it plays in hand hygiene programs" said Danielle Zerr, MD, MPH, medical director of infection control at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, assistant professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "While we collected data from children's hospitals only, we believe this study has significant implications for the entire healthcare system; alcohol hand gel can considerably reduce hospital-associated infections and increase patient safety. "

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