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Washing hands helps to fight superbug

ChrysanthemumA national hand hygiene campaign "cut superbug infections," according to BBC News. The BBC and other news outlets have reported the success of a hand-washing campaign in cutting infection rates in hospitals.

The headlines stem from a study of hand-washing practices at 187 NHS trusts in England and Wales between 2004 and 2008. The Clean Your Hands campaign was introduced in 2004 and this study looked at its effects.

Researchers examined purchases of alcohol hand rub and liquid soap by hospitals against trends of common hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile (C. difficile). They found that the total amount of soap and alcohol gel being purchased by hospitals tripled across the four years of the study, from 22ml per patient per day to 60ml per patient per day. Over the same period, rates of MRSA more than halved and C. difficile infections fell by more than 40%.

Although the study demonstrates some associations between increased purchasing of alcohol gel or soap and reduced infection rates, it can't prove that the campaign itself has influenced infection rates.

This is because the study doesn't take into account factors such as how people are washing their hands, whether other infection-control practices are being followed or how antibiotics are being prescribed. Furthermore, not all infections have demonstrated a continual decline in rate over the period.

The researchers also pointed out that other national campaigns might have been beneficial too. Nevertheless, the study's findings are promising and indicate that national campaigns to improve hand hygiene and reduce hospital-acquired infections can be useful.

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