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One in four seniors leave the hospital carrying a superbug on their hands


(NaturalNews) It is standard protocol for doctors and nurses to wash their hands to help curb the spread of infection in hospitals. According to a recent study, however, seniors often leave hospitals with more germs than they had walking in. In particular, the research, published in a JAMA Internal Medicine research letter, found that one-in-four seniors will leave the hospital with at least one superbug on their hands.

Superbugs are strains of bacteria that are resistant to a wide range of antibiotics. The recent study focused on seniors who had recently been admitted to the hospital for medical or surgical reasons, and needed additional care in a PAC facility prior to returning home.

The rise of superbugs

The study involved 357 seniors who had been admitted to various PAC facilities in southeast Michigan. Nearly one quarter of participants, or 24.1 percent, had one or more multi-drug-resistant organisms (MDROs), or superbugs, on their hands upon checking in.

Researchers retested the patients' hands after spending two weeks at the facility, and then monthly for up to six months or until discharge, according to the news release. Follow-up visits found that the superbugs not only persisted, but that the number of seniors with superbugs on their hands increased from 24.1 percent to 34.2 percent.

The researchers tested a variety of superbugs, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE) and resistant gram-negative bacilli.

"We've been educating healthcare workers for decades about hand hygiene, and these numbers show it's time to include patients in their own hand hygiene performance and education," lead study author Dr. Lona Mody, associate chief for clinical and translational research at the University of Michigan Geriatrics Center, said in a press release.

The more MDROs are on patients' hands, the more likely it is that those superbugs will spread to vulnerable patients and healthcare workers. The overuse of antibiotics for post-acute patients also increases the risk of MDROs spreading in a post-acute care facility.

The overuse and misuse of antibiotics

The overuse of antibiotics has been a problem for quite some time, and is responsible for the rise of superbugs. Although antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections, many antibiotics prescribed to both humans and animals are unnecessary. The overuse and misuse of antibiotics has enabled bacteria to become more resistant to the drugs, thereby creating superbugs.

In the press release, Mody highlighted the fact that today's senior citizens reside in facilities that provide more group and social activities than in the past, which enables the superbugs to flourish. Mody added that new policies will be needed to help stop the spread of MDROs, as more seniors bring superbugs back from the hospital and to PAC facilities.

Rinse and repeat

"Patient hand washing is not a routine practice in hospitals," said Mody. "We need to build on the overarching principles we've already developed with adult learning theories and bring them to patients."

One way to get patients to wash their hands, is to show them how superbugs grow and latch onto their hands using lab samples. Mody noted that patients are always shocked to see how many superbugs are actually on their hands. The researchers also developed the TIP study toolkit to help train employees to control infections.

"Our study shows that patients commonly bring multi-drug-resistant organisms on their hands on discharge from an acute care hospital and acquire more during their stay at the post-acute care facility," the researchers wrote.

"This, combined with frequent antibiotic use in post-acute care patients, increases the probability that multi-drug-resistant organisms introduced to a post-acute care facility will be transmitted to other frail patients and to health care workers — and, most important, that the (germ) will persist in the facility," they added.

"Despite concerns raised by some recent studies, patient hand-washing is not a routine practice in hospitals to date."

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