No hospital, in Hungary or elsewhere, is immune to the spread of dangerous infections among patients.
Each day, an estimated 1.4 million patients worldwide contract an infection while hospitalized. Each year in Hungary, more than 15,000 hospital patients become infected, and hundreds die from their infections. Particularly worrisome: more patients are becoming infected by “superbugs,” including MRSA, VRE, and multidrug-resistant E. coli. In addition, Hungary’s ageing population means more citizens are highly vulnerable to infection.
The costs of the infection crisis are staggering. Patients infected with superbugs face worse outcomes and extended hospital stays — 25 days, on average, according to the National Center for Epidemiology in Budapest — and hospitals must pay for expensive, prolonged therapies. When viral outbreaks occur, hospitals may be forced to close wards.
Yet Hungarian hospitals have cause for optimism.
New, proven technology can be installed to kill airborne pathogens — before they settle on bed rails, medical devices, or latex gloves and are transmitted to patients. What’s more, Miklós Kásler, Minister of Human Capacities, has made infection control a priority, announcing, “Everything that can be done should be done.”
The government has authorized more funding to protect patients and staff from infection. Already, 18 hospitals — Uzsoki Utcai Kórház, Mátrai Gyógyintézet, and Bács-Kiskun Megyei Kórház, among them — have used a portion of their budgets to install air-disinfection technology manufactured by Novaerus.
“Most hospitals start with the highest risk areas, such as the ICU, neonatal, isolation rooms, and small operating theatres,” says Gergely Szíjjártó, CEO of M-Solution Ltd., exclusive distributor of Novaerus technology in Hungary. “Hungarian hygiene specialists understand that air disinfection is important and highly effective.”
Novaerus’ low-energy plasma technology not only reduces infection risk to patients but also adds protection for hospital staff. “Doctors and nurses say, ‘Now if I go into an isolation room, I feel I’m in a safer environment for myself,” Szíjjártó reports.
What’s more, the same technology that destroys airborne pathogens also eradicates chemical pollutants, such as VOCs, and dramatically reduces unpleasant hospital odours.
Why Hand Hygiene Isn’t Enough
For decades, hospital infection control has focused on two strategies: hand hygiene and surface cleaning. Both are critical, yet both are inadequate.
Dangerous microbes spread with astonishing ease via healthcare workers’ hands.
Pathogens can thrive even on intact skin, so a nurse’s hands can become contaminated after taking a patient’s pulse or temperature. Of course, the risk increases when staff change wound dressings, handle a ventilator, or otherwise come in contact with blood, body fluids, or mucous membranes.
Healthcare workers must take every possible precaution, but this is not happening — in Hungary or any other country. According to the World Health Organization, hand-hygiene compliance worldwide is “abysmally low” — typically under 40%.
For example, studies show, healthcare workers often do not use enough soap or hand rub (this is particularly common in Hungary), do not clean the back of their hands, and rub their hands for 11 seconds, on average, rather than the recommended 20 to 30 seconds. Many nurses and doctors leave their wrists exposed, touch dispensers with their fingers, attempt to disinfect wet hands, or remove their gloves improperly.
A study conducted at 13 Hungarian hospitals found that “neither the frequency nor the implementation of hand hygiene performance are satisfying.” Ukrainian researchers found 60% of healthcare workers did not disinfect their hands before putting on gloves, and 80% disregarded hand disinfection upon taking gloves off — typical results.
A unique Swiss study, conducted in an intensive care unit, found hand-hygiene compliance to be even worse: 1% to 5%. In this study, nurses and doctors wore head-mounted cameras during morning rounds, allowing for rigorous monitoring.
“We could show for the first time in a fast-paced, real clinical setting how frequently healthcare workers’ hands touch surfaces,” the authors wrote.
What they found: doctors and nurses deposit – and likely transmit – potentially harmful microbes every 4 seconds onto patients and surfaces.
Why do highly trained professionals practice inadequate hand hygiene? Not because they are uncaring or lazy.
“It’s because they are so busy and exhausted caring for patients,” says Szíjjártó.
Also, as human beings, healthcare workers engage in automatic, unconscious behaviours. “People often are unaware of what exactly their hands do while they are focused on the main task,” the Swiss researchers noted.
Perfect hand hygiene is simply impossible to achieve, which makes surface cleaning essential. After all, if door handles, glucometers, bed rails and the like are properly disinfected, healthcare workers and patients won’t pick up bacteria on their hands.
However, studies show, surface cleaning is just as problematic as hand hygiene.
Read part two of this blog post here.