The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced its annual SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands 2018 campaign (Saito, et al. J Hosp Infect. 2018;98:321), designating May 5, 2018, as world hand hygiene day.
Health-care-associated infections are a major patient safety problem. Unfortunately, their spread is common in hospitals and ICUs around the globe. The vehicle for these infections, including multidrug-resistant organisms, is frequently the contaminated hands of health-care workers. Health-care-acquired infections, as any other infection, can lead to sepsis and death. Infections acquired in the ICU are especially deadly, with mortalities that can be as high as 80%. Proper hand hygiene, despite being simple and inexpensive, is the single most important means of reducing the prevalence of hospital-acquired infections and the spread of antimicrobial resistance.
We have known about the significance of hand washing since the early 19th century. More recent data show that hand washing can reduce the overall prevalence of hospital-acquired infections and the cross-transmission of multidrug-resistant organisms. It is estimated that we can prevent 15% to 30% of these infections with adequate hand washing alone.
Despite the clear benefit and the understanding of the importance of hand washing, compliance with this simple intervention is only about 50%. Health-care workers tend to overestimate these rates, self-reporting a compliance of 75%. Even the latter number represents a lot of missed opportunities, and we must do something about it.
A multifaceted approach that combines education with written material, reminders, and continued feedback on performance can have an important effect on hand washing compliance and rates of hospital-acquired infections.
Sepsis is the single most important cause of death in hospitals in the United States. The campaign (http://www.who.int/infection-prevention/campaigns/clean-hands/en/), sponsored by the World Health Organization, should serve as a reminder to all health-care workers about the importance of adequate hand washing and as an opportunity to improve our compliance moving forward.
Despite the progress made, there is still a lot of room for improvement. We can have an impact on the number of deaths from sepsis by preventing them to occur in the first place. Wash your hands and do it well, it does not cost us anything.