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The relationship between hand hygiene and health care-associated infection: it’s complicated

Authors McLaws M

Received 28 October 2014

Accepted for publication 8 December 2014

Published 29 January 2015 Volume 2015:8 Pages 7—18

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/IDR.S62704

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 5

Editor who approved publication: Professor Suresh Antony

Mary-Louise McLaws

Healthcare Infection and Infectious Diseases Control, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW Medicine, UNSW Australia, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Abstract: The reasoning that improved hand hygiene compliance contributes to the prevention of health care-associated infections is widely accepted. It is also accepted that high hand hygiene alone cannot impact formidable risk factors, such as older age, immunosuppression, admission to the intensive care unit, longer length of stay, and indwelling devices. When hand hygiene interventions are concurrently undertaken with other routine or special preventive strategies, there is a potential for these concurrent strategies to confound the effect of the hand hygiene program. The result may be an overestimation of the hand hygiene intervention unless the design of the intervention or analysis controls the effect of the potential confounders. Other epidemiologic principles that may also impact the result of a hand hygiene program include failure to consider measurement error of the content of the hand hygiene program and the measurement error of compliance. Some epidemiological errors in hand hygiene programs aimed at reducing health care-associated infections are inherent and not easily controlled. Nevertheless, the inadvertent omission by authors to report these common epidemiological errors, including concurrent infection prevention strategies, suggests to readers that the effect of hand hygiene is greater than the sum of all infection prevention strategies. Worse still, this omission does not assist evidence-based practice.

Keywords: compliance, epidemiological principles, study design, bacteria, control, multiple drug resistance

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