Objective: To determine whether hand hygiene practices differ between levels of contact with neonates; to characterize the hand hygiene practices of different types of personnel; and to compare hand hygiene practices in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) using different products.
Methods: Research assistants observed staff hand hygiene practices during 38 sessions in two NICUs. Patient touches were categorized as touching within the neonates' environment but only outside the Isolette (Level 1), touching within the Isolette but not the neonate directly (Level 2) or directly touching the neonate (Level 3). Hand hygiene practices for each touch were categorized into five groups: cleaned hands and new gloves; uncleaned hands and new gloves; used gloves; clean hands and no gloves; uncleaned hands and no gloves.
Results: Research assistants observed 1472 touches. On average each neonate or his or her immediate environment was touched 78 times per shift. Nurses (P = 0.001), attending physicians (P = 0.02) and physicians-in-training (P = 0.03) were more likely to use appropriate practices during Level 3 touches, but only 22.8% of all touches were with cleaned and/or newly gloved hands. The mean number of direct touches by staff members with cleaned hands was greater in the NICU using an alcohol-based hand rub than in the NICU using antimicrobial soap (P < 0.01).
Conclusions: Hand hygiene was suboptimal in this high risk setting; administrative action and improved products may be needed to assure acceptable practice. In this study use of an alcohol-based product was associated with significantly improved hand hygiene and should be encouraged, as recommended in the new CDC hand hygiene guideline.