Highlighting Hand Hygiene Raises Dermatitis Rate

February 17, 2015
Eileen Oldfield Associate Editor

Hand washing campaigns aimed at reducing infections may have an unintended side effect: increased rates of dermatitis among health care workers.

Hand washing campaigns aimed at reducing infections may have an unintended side effect: increased rates of dermatitis among health care workers.

Researchers found that health care workers were 4.5 times more likely to experience irritant contact dermatitis after hand washing campaigns to prevent hospital-acquired infections like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile were introduced.

“Campaigns to reduce these infections have been very successful and many lives have been saved,” said lead study author Jill Stocks, PhD, in a press release. “However, we need to do all we can to prevent skin irritation among these frontline workers.”

Higher contact dermatitis levels can thwart infection reduction goals, because infections may linger longer on damaged or broken skin. Additionally, skin irritation can prevent health care workers from washing their hands.

“Obviously, we don’t want people to stop washing their hands, so more needs to be done to procure less irritating products and to implement practice to prevent and treat irritant contact dermatitis,” Dr. Stocks said.

Researchers analyzed 7138 cases of irritant contact dermatitis reported in a national database between 1996 and 2012.

In 1999, the United Kingdom made preventing health care-associated infections a priority, which led to an increased emphasis on hand washing and alcohol-based hand sanitizer use, the authors noted. Similarly, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlined hand-washing procedures in health care settings in its 2007 guideline on isolation precautions for infectious agents, and incorporated recommendations from a 2006 document on multidrug resistant organisms in health care facilities.

Although US hospitals’ infection controls have improved, 1 out of every 25 patients contracts an infection during a hospital stay, according to the CDC’s “National and State Healthcare-associated Infection Progress Report.” The report only tracked infection incidence, and did not include details about specific prevention efforts.