Will superbugs win the cleaning wars?
Cleaning expert GREG WHITELEY says the human race is fighting a tough battle against bacteria – and people should not take victory for granted.
There is a war underway. The people who are dying in this war are our family and our friends. We are fighting for these people’s lives. Our major enemies are bacteria. These microbes are fighting for survival and, even though millions die with the use of cleaning products, antibiotics, microfibre cloths, silver-impregnated wiping cloths, disinfectants, oxidising water and even chlorine, there are still too many people in this country being infected and dying.
Hundreds of Australian families have been affected by this war; it is our responsibility to help them. New strategies about cleaning in healthcare settings are the way to win.
Resistant organisms such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) can survive for long periods on surfaces. According to a study in southern California, these bacteria can survive for up to 67 days. In Western Australia it has been found that other bacteria (Enterococcus species, for example) are becoming more and more resistant to the most powerful antibiotics (Vancomycin), making this fight even more urgent.
In 2005/06 Dr John Turnidge and the Australian Group on Antimicrobial Resistance found that around 57 percent of all Staphylococcus blood infections (where bacteria gets into the bloodstream of the patient) were ‘healthcare associated infections’ (HAIs). The likelihood of death from Bacteraemia (blood infections) was more that 20 percent for patients over the age of 80.
In hospitals across the country, fighting bacteria and HAIs has become a daily battle. Should any surface be missed during cleaning, bacteria will not only survive, they will also thrive and be available to infect another patient in the process. Healthcare workers who fail to wash their hands prior to or after touching a patient (or surfaces near them) allow bacteria to move from patients to surfaces and back again.
Given that the average rate of correct hand washing frequency among healthcare workers is estimated at less than 50 percent (Dr Didier Pittet) and that the average rate of cleaning of surfaces is also estimated at less than 50 percent (Dr Phillip Carling), the chances of an unwashed healthcare worker’s hand carrying a potentially infectious MDRO (multi-drug-resistant organism) is very high.
Even a primary school child could tell you the risk is around one in four for being touched with an unwashed hand that carries bacteria from another surface or source. Perhaps this explains HAI rates of around six percent of all in-patients in Australian hospitals? Self-reporting on hand washing rates by Australian hospitals published by Hand Hygiene Australia suggest compliance for hand washing at 67 percent, but self-reporting may be less reliable than third party observational studies.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
The role of cleaning staff within healthcare is underestimated; by increasing cleaning efficacy within effective bacterial removal rates, the cleaning battle can be won. The chances of bugs spreading on unwashed hands drops quite dramatically – one study has shown that for every 10 percent improvement in cleaning practices, the risk of a VRE (Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus) infection falls six percent (Hota et al, 2009).
You could save a life today in a hospital by effectively cleaning and washing your hands. That’s good motivation to improve our cleaning performance. Help win the fight against superbugs.
Greg Whiteley is managing director of Whiteley Corporation, a 75-year-old Australian family-owned company dedicated to excellence in cleaning services.