History of Infection Prevention: The Turn of the 20th Century, Thanks Hand Hygiene!

Xenex Blog Gross Clinic

While HAIs negatively affect around 2 million Americans each year, you are still probably safer in a sanitized hospital room than your house, or even outdoors. This, however, has not always been the case. Before scientists knew about infection prevention and germs, having surgery in your home was safer than in the hospital- if you even had surgery at all.

Of course, it would be difficult to not catch an infection in a hospital when your operating room looked like this:

That’s an image of Thomas Eakin’s Gross Clinic from 1875 and that poor person’s surgery is being performed in an auditorium surrounded by nicely mutton-chopped men who didn’t realize that it was a little less than clean to perform surgery in a room full of fellows dressed for the opera.

While we cannot vouch for Dr. Gross’ hygiene habits, we do know that doctors began incorporating hand washing before surgical procedures in the 1840’s after an independent study established a link between the hands of healthcare workers and the spread of hospital acquired infections.

While the addition of hand washing helped, the problem was so bad that just before the turn of the 20th century the likelihood of acquiring a serious infection from even a basic surgery was around 80%.

Fittingly, the first time someone wrote about something like healthcare associated infections, they referred to it as ‘hospitalism’. (I wonder if it was someone from Dr. Gross’ clinic.)

Imagine a doctor today telling you in your pre-surgery conversation, “Don’t worry when you see your leg begin to rot, it’s just a case of the hospitalisms, it happens to everyone.

While we cannot fault doctors from the 19th century for having very little knowledge of how infections spread, it is interesting to note that they discovered that proper hand hygiene led to a decrease in cases of “hospitalisms” even 170 years ago.

If we’ve known about the benefits of proper hand hygiene for so long, why do healthcare workers and families visiting patients STILL not routinely take all the precautions necessary to cut down on the spread of HAIs?

A recent study by Michigan State showed that only 5% of Americans wash their hands well enough to kill bacteria after they go to the bathroom and according to the CDC, less than 50% of healthcare workers disinfect their hands before checking on a patient.

If we are going to control the increasing prevalence of HAIs in our healthcare facilities, we need to begin having conversations on best practices and doing our part to encourage anyone (healthcare worker, patient or family) to properly disinfect before engaging with loved ones in the hospital.

While Dr. Gross might have had an excuse for his gross behavior, we don’t. If we are going to push forward and eliminate HAIs from our facilities then we need to tackle the problem with both technologies like Xenex and age-old practices like hand washing.

Xenex is a company on a mission to eradicate the harmful bacteria and viruses that cause the healthcare associated infections which take countless lives around the world every day. While we produce a robot that is used to disinfect hospital rooms, we also think it is critical to inform, support, and arm the general public with the tools and knowledge necessary to help them navigate the tough and often complicated worlds of infection control and health.

John Burnam is the Copywriter at Xenex Healthcare Services. In his spare time, you can catch him traveling, drinking coffee and hanging out with his wife and friends.

Credit xenexadmin