A new study suggests seniors who spend time in a hospital may leave with more germs than they had before entering. In their research, published in a JAMA Internal Medicine research letter, University of Michigan researchers found one in four seniors are discharged from the hospital with at least one superbug on their hands.

The study also found that seniors who go to a nursing home or other post-acute care (PAC) facility tend to continue acquiring new superbugs during their stay. The data focused on those who have been admitted to a hospital recently for a medical or surgical issue, and needed extra medical care before returning home.

Researchers studied 357 seniors who were admitted to several PAC facilities in southeast Michigan following a hospital stay, according to a news release. Of these patients, 24 percent had at least one superbug, or multidrug-resistant organism, on their hands when they checked in.

The patients were again tested after spending two weeks at the facility, and then monthly for up to six months or until discharge, according to the news release. Follow-up testing suggested that not only did the superbugs persist, but that the number of patients with superbugs on their hands increased to 34 percent.

“We’ve been educating health care workers for decades about hand hygiene, and these numbers show it’s time to include patients in their own hand hygiene performance and education,” lead study author Dr. Lona Mody, associate chief for clinical and translational research at the University of Michigan Geriatrics Center, said in the release.

In the news release, Mody noted that seniors often choose to stay in facilities that offer group activities and social events, which could lead to the superbugs further spreading. Frequent antibiotic use in these centers may also cause certain strains of several infectious bacteria to evolve and become resistant to treatment.

“Patient handwashing is not a routine practice in hospitals,” Mody said. “We need to build on the overarching principles we’ve already developed with adult learning theories and bring them to patients.”

Mody recommended showing patients the actual superbugs on their hands by growing them in a lab. Researchers also developed a toolkit to help health care workers teach patients about hand hygiene.
 

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