Oncologist Dr. Belinda Yeoh and a patient

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World first: Hospital hand hygiene linked to reduced superbug risk

Professor Lindsay Grayson
Professor Lindsay Grayson

In a world-first, researchers at Hand Hygiene Australia (HHA) have demonstrated a clear link between good hand hygiene and a reduction in health-care associated Golden Staph (Staphylococcus aureus) blood-stream infections throughout Australia.

The research was recently published in the prestigious journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The Australian National Hand Hygiene Initiative (NHHI) was established by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in 2009 and is the largest and most comprehensive program of its type. Since 2013, all Australian public and private hospitals have been required to implement a hand hygiene program consistent with the NHHI and their jurisdictional requirements.

The HHA's longitudinal study assessed eight years of data from all participating Australian public hospitals using the NHHI, including data on hand hygiene compliance and the occurrence of Golden Staph blood-stream infection.

The study found that reductions in the incidence of Golden Staph blood-stream infection were tightly linked to improvements in hand hygiene compliance.

"For every 10 per cent improvement in hand hygiene compliance, there was an associated 15 per cent relative reduction in the rate of Golden Staph blood-stream infection," says Professor Lindsay Grayson, Director of Hand Hygiene Australia and the Department of Infectious Diseases & Microbiology at Austin Health.

An accompanying editorial in the Lancet stated that the study provided persuasive evidence of the effectiveness of hand hygiene as an infection control measure.

"Patients who contract a Golden Staph blood-stream infection have a significantly increased risk of death depending on the source of the infection, so there is a tremendous benefit from hand hygiene and infection control programs in hospital environments," says Professor Grayson.

The NHHI is funded by the Commission, with the states and territories meeting the cost of implementation of hand hygiene strategies and audits. New Zealand has a similar program to the NHHI, and the program has been adopted in Israel, and by a number of hospitals in Netherlands and Norway.

"It's not surprising to now see evidence supporting what we have understood to be the case for a number of years," said Dr Kathryn Daveson, the Commission's Clinical Director with the Antimicrobial Use and Resistance in Australia Surveillance System.

The implementation of these simple and effective protocols can achieve demonstrable improvements in the provision of safe and high-quality health care.

Since their implementation in 2013, the Commission's National Safety and Quality Health Service (NSQHS) Standards have led to a number of safety and quality improvements, and hand hygiene is one example of this.

"It's pleasing to see these measures becoming embedded in clinical practice with people working within Australia's health service organisations. Hopefully these findings will support uptake of these programs globally," said Dr Daveson.

Media contacts:

Mary Gillman, Director Corporate Communications, Austin Health, 0468 605 082

Ron Cuadra, Director, Communications, Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, 0415 800 868