Melissa Kaplan's
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Last updated January 1, 2014

Hand-Transmitted Infection

©1996 Steve Grenard, HerpMed


Hand-transmission is a critical factor in the spread of bacteria, pathogens, viruses causing disease, foodborne illness and nosocomial infections (infections acquired while in healthcare and unrelated to the original condition). Well over one-third of the population is at high risk, including the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems (including those with the common cold or a seasonal flu).

According to the US Centers for Disease Control, "Handwashing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection."

Tracking foodborne illness, over 70% of all outbreaks originate at foodservice operations and, as many as 40% are the result of poor handwashing and cross-contamination. Each year over 80 million estimated cases of food poisoning occur in the United States alone. The US spends $7.6 billion annually on health care and lost productivity resulting from foodborne illness. What's worse is that foodborne illness kills as many as 10,000 people each year.

In health care, a New England Journal of Medicine (July 9, 1992) study reported that health care workers (in hospitals, long-term health care facilities, nursing homes, clinics, and doctor's offices) fail to meet established procedural handwashing requirements over 60% of the time. Each year, an alarming 2,400,000+ nosocomial infections occur in the US alone. They are estimated to cause 30,000 deaths and contribute to another 70,000 deaths each year. Nosocomial infections cost over $4.5 billion annually in extended care and treatment. "There is so little confidence in handwashing habits that hospital isolation policies now assume noncompliance, the issues' editorial stated. "Although it is difficult to change handwashing behavior, we think that infection rates might be [reduced 25 to 50 percent] through the use of an effective approach to increase compliance by 50 to 100 percent," the study's authors wrote. "Further efforts to increase the effectiveness of hand-washing must address compliance."

According to JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, the cost of a program to control the spread of nosocomial infections is outweighed by the money saved by preventing nosocomial infections. If the number of nosocomial infections is reduced by 6% or more, the hospital will save money" (Source: JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, p3048(2) Dec 2 1992 v268 n21).

In childcare, a recent study published in the medical journal, Infectious Diseases in Children reports 33% of daycare facilities "had poor handwashing techniques and no policy for handwashing before eating or after playing outside." Researchers recovered fecal coliforms from the hands of one out of every five staff members. The conclusion of the report was that improvements in handwashing procedures be a major priority in day-care centers. "In spite of all the studies about the benefits of handwashing, improper or infrequent handwashing continues to be a major factor in the spread of disease in day-care" (Source: Infectious Diseases in Children, Volume 4, July 1991).

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