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More than 150 years after Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis first recognized the importance of handwashing as a means of preventing infection, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital) is on Sunday launching a campaign to get staff to rub their hands with alcohol gel before touching patients.
Semmelweis noticed an alarming number of healthy new mothers dying within days of giving birth. He discovered that student-doctors working in the morgue were also treating the women, but were not washing their hands before examining patients. Suspecting they were spreading germs from the dead to the new mothers, he insisted they get into the habit of washing their hands. It worked.
Although the importance of handwashing is well known, some doctors and nurses are too lazy to do it before touching a patient, or they don't like the dry skin that comes from using soap and water dozens of times a day. But alcohol gel, which doesn't dry the skin, is a useful alternative, and Sourasky has set a tub of alcohol gel near every bed in the hospital.
The hospital has placed pamphlets and signs reading: "Did you ask me if I washed my hands?" and hung a display called: "The Ten Commandments for Prevention of Hospital Infections" in every staff room.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections affect some 2,000,000 Americans in general hospitals and nursing institutions, and approximately 60,000 of them die each year. In Israel, between 7 percent and 10% of all hospital patients develop a hospital-acquired infection, and it is fatal for 4% of them.
Sourasky identified four common types of bacteria as especially problematic: VRE, MRSA, Acinetobacter and Clostridium difficile. These "superbugs" pass from one susceptible patient to another via medical personnel, and sometimes to hospital visitors. The only way to stop them spreading is to disinfect hands. The hospital also stresses the risk of viral infections (rota or RSV) to children during the winter months.
Dr. Yehuda Carmeli, head of the medical center's epidemiology unit, said, "The health system has to join together in a campaign against nosocomial infections. This is a time of testing for our hospital as part of our effort to invest in quality of care and medical education for our patients, as is occurring in the world's leading hospitals."
Dr. Stephan Herbt of the University of Geneva Medical Center, one of the world's leading epidemiologists, was invited to participate in the launch of Sourasky's new campaign.
"The war against pathogenic resistance to antibiotics and nosocomial infections is the most important challenge in the US and European health systems and has been adopted by the World Health Organization," he said.