super spreaders

Study Finds that Nurses are “Super Spreaders”

We often think about nurses healing sickness – not causing it. However, according to a study in BMC Infectious Diseases, they’re highly likely to spread illnesses.

The study used RFID sensors to track seven different groups of healthcare workers: doctor, nurse, cleaner, department assistant, department co-assistant, consultant and feeding assistant.

While doctors and nurses together accounted for more than 80 percent of contact, nurses made more than five times more contact than doctors. This puts them in the “super spreaders” category and makes them the most likely source of microbe transmission.

It’s not hard to understand how it can happen. Nurses are constantly in and out of patient rooms. They’re the point of contact for family and other visitors. They work long hours and, especially in the age of COVID-19, they’re under incredible pressure.

All this leads to a lack of proper hand hygiene. And the lower the hand hygiene compliance (HHC) in healthcare facilities, the higher the risk of nurses transmitting dangerous microbes, such as Enterococcus faeciumStaphylococcus aureusKlebsiella pneumoniaeAcinetobacter baumanniiPseudomonas aeruginosa or Enterobacter spp.

Hand hygiene is a priority for nurses, but that doesn’t mean HHC is guaranteed. For instance, compliance drops on weeknights and weekends when facilities are typically busy and understaffed, and just one hour of overtime worked can drop HHC by as much as three percent.

With the average HHC rate standing at about 40 percent in closed healthcare facilities, it’s no surprise that the people who do the most work are the people transmitting the most germs.

It’s clear that more work needs to be done in HHC and continuing education for nurses. Good placement of hand hygiene stations and easy, consistent access to personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, gowns and masks will contribute to better HHC in healthcare facilities and decreased transmissions by nurses and other healthcare workers.

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