Increased hand washing is causing harm to healthcare workers

Posted Feb 19, 2015 by Tim Sandle
As part of the improvements in hospitals to minimize the rate of healthcare acquired infections affecting patients, healthcare workers have been told to frequently wash their hands. One downside is an increase in skin conditions.
Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Mary Bushong
A new piece of research indicates that in the U.K. the incidence of dermatitis has increased almost five times across a range of healthcare workers. This is seen as a direct result of British government advice relating to hand hygiene. Such measures were introduced in order to lower the risk of healthcare professionals passing on antibiotic resistant bacteria to patients. A prominent a case being Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA.)
The new fining has come about from a review of the University of Manchester’s Institute of Population Health reports which assess data submitted by dermatologists. The researchers behind the new finding focused on reports relating to skin conditions.
These reports revealed a steep increase in instances of irritant contact dermatitis. Comparing the change over time, healthcare workers are 4.5 times more likely to suffer from irritant contact dermatitis now compared with the situation back in 1996. When the results, year-by-year, are superimposed against government advice, the rise begins following the introduction of new hand washing requirements (this took place during 1999.) These requirements urge healthcare staff to wash their hands more frequently and with great vigor.
The key message is not to reduce the rate of hand washing, because patient priority is essential. However, hospital managers need to find new solutions to reduce skin irritation. This should involve investigating different types of soaps and gels.
Another reason is that irritated or broken skin tends to harbour more bacteria. So, the rise in skin conditions risks becoming counterproductive to the objective of reducing contamination transfer.
The results have been published in the British Journal of Dermatology. The paper is titled “The impact of national level interventions to improve hygiene on the incidence of irritant contact dermatitis in healthcare workers: changes in incidence from 1996-2012 and interrupted times series analysis.”