To save yourself from superbug infections, wash your hands, Hong Kong hygiene expert says
Local hospital official strives to improve protection against and awareness of bacteria that is highly resistant to drugs
Wash your hands. It’s as easy as that when it comes to keeping superbugs at bay in hospitals.
Improved hand hygiene helped the private Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital to sharply reduce the spread of superbugs, according to Dr Raymond Yung Wai-hung, its deputy medical superintendent for quality and safety.
Calling himself “a walking reminder”, he wears a hand hygiene button on his hospital coat lapel and goes through the hospital in Happy Valley daily “to make sure everyone does their thing”.
At the entrance to its 38-floor Li Shu Pui Block, visitors cannot miss the life-sized posters bearing the message: “It’s in your hands: prevent sepsis in health care.” Other signs urge them to “say yes” to hand hygiene by making use of the six bottles of alcohol disinfectant.
Among Sanatorium staff, handwashing is now so routine it is second nature to everyone. But Yung is not stopping there.
“This year, we are asking patients to be their own advocate,” he said. “The patients themselves take the initiative to ask the doctors and the nurses, ‘have you washed your hands before you touch me?’”
Sanatorium, one of 12 private hospitals in Hong Kong, has seen superbug infections fall in recent years, but did not give specific figures.From 2013 to 2017, there were only two outbreaks of superbugs in the private hospital sector, the Centre for Health Protection said. The one instance in 2014 was at Union Hospital and involved 18 patients, and the other was at St Teresa’s Hospital the following year, involving nine patients.
This compared with 157 outbreaks at the 43 public hospitals over the same period affecting 1,530 patients.
Yung, a microbiologist and former surgeon who worked for 25 years in the public sector, set out infection control practices at public hospitals when he was the city’s first head of the Centre for Health Protection’s infection control branch from 2004 to mid-2008.
Since joining Sanatorium in October 2008, he has helped private hospitals establish infection control systems and set up antimicrobial resistance surveillance.
The surveillance system was implemented three years ago to collect and submit data to the Centre for Health Protection on antibiotics sensitivity relating to six superbugs.
Hand hygiene was also found to make a difference in an experiment carried out last summer at 10 local homes for the elderly. At these facilities, occupants are prone to carrying the common superbug Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), more so than in nursing homes in Shanghai and Britain.
Dr Chen Hong, an associate consultant at the centre’s infection control branch, said hand hygiene ambassadors encouraged the elderly residents to clean their hands before meals, using an alcohol rub.
The study ran from July to August last year and the participating homes were split into two groups.
In one group, hand hygiene was done every two hours during the day and before meals and medication rounds. The other group did not have to clean their hands.
“We found that with enhanced hand hygiene before meals and medication, the environmental contamination with organisms such as MRSA can be dramatically decreased,” said Chen, who published the results of the study in the May 2018 issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.