You may notice a recurring theme in many of our posts and on virtually all of the information sheets on the Worms & Germs Resources page: an emphasis on handwashing. There is increasing emphasis on hand hygiene (i.e. hand washing and use of alcohol hand sanitizers) education in hospitals because the hands of healthcare workers are a major (if not the most important) means of disease transmission between patients. Despite hand hygiene being easy, cheap and effective, people rarely wash their hands as often as they should, and they often don’t do it properly.

Most of the research about hand hygiene that has been published has focused on its use and impact in human hospitals, but this area is now also being studied more with regard to animals and veterinary medicine. A study published earlier this year in Veterinary Microbiology provided more evidence that hand hygiene is a critical infection control measure when dealing with animals. The study, coordinated by Dr. Maureen Anderson (of Worms&Germs fame) looked at MRSA carriage rate in veterinarians who work with horses. In addition to finding a high rate of MRSA carriage among these veterinarians (which was consistent with other reports indicating that equine vets are at higher than average risk for exposure to MRSA), the study looked at factors associated with MRSA carriage. Vets that reported routinely washing their hands between farms and those that reported washing their hands after contact with potentially infectious cases had a significantly lower rate of MRSA carriage. That should come as absolutely no surprise, but it’s one more piece of evidence that we need to pay more attention to this routine infection control measure, in human hospitals, in veterinary environments and in households.

Remember, the 10 most important sources of infection are the fingers on your hands!

Click here for instructions on how to wash your hands properly.

  • Katie Haman

    Hand washing should be viewed as a first means to controlling communicable disease transmission either between animals or between animals and humans. Individuals that work with animals know this to be true. For example, those working with reptiles are aware of the possibility of contracting Salmonella when in contact with the reptile. Not only is it possible to pass this bacteria from reptile to reptile, but it is also for humans to become infected. The simple task of washing one’s hands can negate this risk. This in turn will save economic and human resources that would otherwise be necessary to treat the contracted Salmonella.

    In addition, veterinarians in small animal hospitals should be exceedingly aware of the risk of transporting harmful, antibiotic resistant bacteria on unwashed hands. For example, UTIs that do not respond to antibiotics are becoming increasingly common in dogs. An attending veterinarian could potentially transmit these bacteria to another patient. For the sake of the health of both the human and the animal, hands should always be washed!

    Hand washing should become the norm, not only for human health, but for the health of the animals. Simple steps like this can become the most important form of preventative medicine!