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OMAHA, Neb. - Doctors and nurses who often use an alcohol-based hand gel to kill bacteria may not be curbing the spread of infections in hospitals, according to a new study.
In a Nebraska hospital, medical workers nearly doubled their use of the alcohol-based gel, but their generally cleaner hands had no bearing on the rate of infections among patients.
The doctor who studied the problem pointed to many villains: Rings and fingernails that are too long and hard to clean, poor handling of catheters and treatment areas that aren't sanitized.
"Hand hygiene is still important, but it's not a panacea," said Dr. Mark Rupp, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He led the study at the adjoining Nebraska Medical Center.
The results of his study appear to contradict hospital guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that say better hand hygiene - through frequent washing or use of hand gels - has been shown to cut the spread of hospital infections.
The spread of infection-causing germs in U.S. hospitals is a huge health problem, accounting for an estimated 1.7-million infections and 99,000 deaths each year, according to the CDC. These include drug-resistant staph, urinary tract infections and ventilator-associated pneumonia.
Research has shown that alcohol-based hand gels are more effective, faster and easier to use than soap and water. The findings of the new study were based on 300 hours of observation of nurses and doctors in two comparable intensive care units over a two-year period.
More gel dispensers were put in the units, and usage rose from 37 percent to 68 percent in one unit and from 38 percent to 69 percent in the other.
Researchers found "no significant relationship" between rates of hand gel use and infections among patients. In one unit where the hand gel was widely available the infection rate rose.
"If they don't do everything else right, having clean hands is not enough," said Mike Bell, who deals with infection control at the CDC.
Dr. David Hooper of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston suggested that Rupp's study would have shown a reduction in infections if it was conducted over a longer period.
[Last modified January 30, 2008, 01:52:58]