The role of patients and their relatives as unidentified transient meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) carriers and sources of dissemination in healthcare institutions has not been systematically addressed. Patients' and their relatives' hands may represent a substantial and 'unaccounted for' mode of transmission. This study aimed to verify this hypothesis in our 250-bed community hospital. The trial consisted of a systematic waterless washing and gel rinse disinfection of all patients' and visiting relatives' hands for a period of one year, along with retrospective comparison of the nosocomial infection rates. Under the supervision of infection control personnel, a team of four full-time and four part-time attendants was trained to meet all patients and visiting relatives and encourage them to clean their hands with an alcohol gel rinse twice a day on every weekday. Rates of MRSA infections per thousand admissions, cost-benefit analysis and staff hand hygiene compliance were audited throughout. From the comparative year, the rate of MRSA nosocomial infections per thousand admissions decreased by 51%. Assuming that the incidence of MRSA was maintained from comparative to study year, the intervention may have prevented 51 cases of MRSA infection and resulted in substantial savings. While focusing extensively on staff behaviour to prevent MRSA transmission, we may have overlooked hand hygiene practices by patients and their relatives as a potential mode of transmission. Systematic hand hygiene of patients and relatives appears to be an inexpensive and highly effective preventive measure against MRSA nosocomial transmission.
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