Dangerous Superbugs Found on Many Hospital Patients' Hands

The multi-drug resistant organisms are on patients' hands as well as the surfaces they commonly touch.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Superbugs are dangerous multi-drug resistant organisms also referred to as MDROs. The bacteria can cause such conditions as pneumonia, urinary tract infections and skin infections to name but a few.


On patient's hands

Now a new hospital study is revealing that they are everywhere on patients' hands. The research found that fourteen percent of 399 hospital patients had superbus on their hands or nostrils very early in their hospital stay.

Worse, nearly a third of the objects that patients commonly touched also had superbugs. Furthermore, six percent of patients who didn't initially have superbugs tested positive for them on their hands later in their stay. 

"Hand hygiene narrative has largely focused on physicians, nurses and other frontline staff, and all the policies and performance measurements have centered on them, and rightfully so," said Lona Mody, M.D., M.Sc., the University of Michigan geriatrician, epidemiologist and patient safety researcher who led the research team.

"But our findings make an argument for addressing transmission of MDROs in a way that involves patients, too."

Thes study also found that six patients developed an infection with a superbug called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA. Those patients all tested positive for MRSA on their hands and room surfaces.

Genetic fingerprinting

The researchers used genetic fingerprinting techniques to see if the same strain of MRSA bacteria on the patients' hands were the ones in their rooms. In nearly all cases, the two matched.

However, note the researchers, the question of where patients picked up the MDROs remains a mystery. As patients are often encouraged to walk around the hospital the risk of picking up and spreading MDROs increases. 

"Infection prevention is everybody's business," says Mody, a professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School.

"We are all in this together. No matter where you are, in a healthcare environment or not, this study is a good reminder to clean your hands often, using good techniques--especially before and after preparing food, before eating food, after using a toilet, and before and after caring for someone who is sick-- to protect yourself and others."

The study is published in Clinical Infectious Diseases. 

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