The quick action of paramedics often shortens suffering and saves lives. Could those actions also be spreading dangerous germs?
A recent study published in the BMJ took a close look at hand hygiene practices of first responders around the world. And frankly, those practices come up a little short.
We are taught from a young age to wash our hands throughout the day. Clean hands help sick individuals spread fewer germs and help healthy people avoid getting sick. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers hand hygiene a key component in reducing the spread of infectious diseases—especially in healthcare settings.
As we have discussed before, healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are a serious threat in hospital settings across the United States. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) reports one of every 25 patients is impacted by an HAI at any given time in this country.
HAIs occur across healthcare settings, including in long-term care, dialysis centers, outpatient surgical centers, and of course, acute care hospitals.
From Injury to Infection
Around the world, the role of a paramedic is similar. EMTs render first-aid in the field to stabilize a patient for transport to a medical care facility if needed. In the BMJ research, study authors sought to understand how well paramedics followed hand hygiene protocols that shield them from the germs of others. In turn, good hand hygiene stops their own germs from infecting ill or injured patients.
In a study conducted during 240 hours of observation in Denmark, Sweden, Australia, and Finland, these basic trends were observed:
- Basic hygiene standards were high. Fingernails were short and clean, no jewelry rules were observed and hair was tied back.
- Just about 54 percent of paramedics used gloves when recommended. Yet, new gloves were used with new patients only about 48 percent of the time. Oftentimes paramedics wear the same gloves throughout a procedure. For example, a responder might touch a contaminated object with gloves, and then touch a new patient.
- Paramedics were likely to wear gloves even when there was no risk of exposure to body fluids. They were also less likely to use a hand rub or hand wash to clean their hands before working with a patient, relying primarily on gloves to protect themselves, and their patients.
Note the authors, “It is important to note that [hand hygiene] is about preventing the spread of microbes and thus protecting the patient. Whereas the use of gloves primarily is about protecting oneself from bodily fluids, and so on.”
While only an observational study, the results of this research help illuminate the chain of transmission of germs to vulnerable patients. When considering HAIs, it might be important to start at the beginning—with first responders.
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The attorneys at Schochor and Staton, P.A. provide comprehensive legal support for victims of hospital acquired infections. If you, or a loved one, suffer medical malpractice or negligent injury in Maryland, Washington, D.C., or across the nation. Contact us or call 410-234-1000 to schedule a free consultation.