1 in 4 Seniors in Rehab Centers Test Positive for ‘Superbugs’ On Hands

May 05, 2016 8:09 AM

New research serves as a reminder to always wash your hands.

Doctors shouldn’t be the only people washing their hands in hospital rooms.

This International Hand Hygiene Day, May 5, remind yourself and your aging relatives about the importance of lathering up. Research continues to find new reasons to wash your hands well and often.

A recent University of Michigan study, for example, found that one in four seniors had multidrug-resistant organisms, known as superbugs, on their hands after leaving the hospital for a nursing home or other post-acute care facility.

Beyond making themselves sick, elderly patients who are acquiring superbugs could also be putting others at risk for getting sick.

“A high level of superbugs on patient hands increases the chance that these superbugs will be transmitted to other frail patients and health care workers,” says the principal investigator on the study Lona Mody, M.D., a research scientist in aging at U-M. “Frequent antibiotic use in post-acute care patients also raises the probability that MDROs introduced to a post-acute care facility will flourish.”

Her team tested older adults’ hands after two weeks in rehab, and then monthly for up to six months, or until their discharge home from the post-acute care facility. During follow-up visits, researchers found that not only did these organisms persist, but also more seniors acquired new superbugs on their hands — up from one in four to more than one in three affected individuals.

"A high level of superbugs on patient hands increases the chance that these superbugs will be transmitted to other frail patients and health care workers."
Lona Mody, M.D.

Mody believes the high numbers could reflect a change in hospital and nursing home culture. Because many aging adults want to be as active as possible, they are touching more doorknobs, light switches, furniture — and other patients. Leaving their hospital rooms more often, without washing their hands more often, increases the chances that seniors will acquire superbugs.

“Patient hand washing is not a routine practice in hospitals,” Mody says, and that needs to evolve. Her team is developing strategies that health care systems can use to bring employee hand hygiene education to patients.

Families can also get involved in encouraging and helping their loved ones remember to wash their hands well and often.