Alcohol sanitizers and hand hygiene? It’s complicated.

Researchers found alcohol sanitizers are losing their sting.

Alcohol sanitizers and hand hygiene? It’s complicated.

In infection control, we’ve known for years that alcohol-based (70% isopropanol) hand sanitizers are incredibly useful in healthcare hand hygiene. The now-ubiquitous presence of gel or foam dispensers in hospital lobbies, outside patient rooms, even in your family doctors’ offices has made a significant impact on reducing the contamination we spread on our hands. By reducing that contamination, they’ve reduced rates of nasty superbugs like VRE, MRSA, and outbreaks of influenza.

Those of us waging war against C.diff and norovirus also knew that alcohol was less effective for killing certain germs. This complicates the training healthcare facilities would like to provide on hand hygiene: please use the hand sanitizers at every door unless it’s for a C.diff or norovirus patient, then wash your hands with soap and water. But hey, also use gloves if it’s C.diff because soap and water isn’t that effective either.

Well, things just got more complicated.

Researchers in Australia suspected a problem was cropping up with alcohol hand sanitizers when their rates of MRSA and VRE were remaining high but their hand hygiene ratings were strong, meaning efforts of using alcohol-based hand sanitizers wasn’t helping as expected.

Using bacterial samples of Enterococcus faecium (also known as the E in “VRE”) stored from as far back as 1997, the researchers designed an experiment that tested how well the different vintages of E. faecium could survive alcohol disinfectants. They basically spread the bacteria in the cages of mice, cleaned the cages with alcohol and then checked if the mice got the infection anyway.

Germs from 2010 and after were significantly resistant to this alcohol disinfectant, and the mice in those cages got sick more often. Now imagine the cages were patient rooms and the mice were patients, and you see why everyone’s concerned. This means we can’t really trust these alcohol-based disinfectants like we did before, and likely need to increase the concentration for them to work.

So how can healthcare facilities get rid of these hardy germs? No-touch technology like the Xenex® LightStrike™ System easily disinfects C.diff, norovirus, VRE, MRSA, influenza, etc. Germs have met their match when it comes to the intense blasts of full spectrum UV light emitted by a LightStrike Robot, which has been validated in 26 published studies to kill the germs that cause infections, including 9 peer-reviewed HAI rate reduction studies, regardless of their resistance to medicine or other disinfectants.

Credit Rachael Sparks