Hygiene in healthcare - is it all about COVID?

9th of April 2021
Hygiene in healthcare - is it all about COVID?

Outbreaks of MRSA, c.difficile, the norovirus and other hospital-acquired infections used to dominate the healthcare news. But references to such once-common conditions have disappeared virtually overnight. Are they no longer an issue - or has the advent of COVID-19 eclipsed them, asks Ann Laffeaty?

Every winter, the news used to be filled with reports of virulent hospital outbreaks. Conditions such as MRSA, c.difficile and the norovirus would crop up in healthcare facilities at regular intervals – particularly during the colder months – along with stories of quarantined patients, ward closures and sometimes of hospitals being shut down altogether.

As we grapple with the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 it is hard to imagine how our already-struggling health services would cope if a sudden outbreak of MRSA were to compound our current woes. But luckily, little has been heard of this or other HAI’s over the past 12 months.

Does this mean such conditions no longer pose a significant threat? Or are today’s COVID-related cleaning and hand hygiene protocols helping to keep other pathogens in check as well?

Reports of various hospital outbreaks do still occur from time to time and healthcare chiefs and patient groups remain on their guard. At least two c.difficile clusters emerged in North America in 2020, for instance – one in July at Vancouver’s Royal Columbian Hospital and the other in December at California’s Port Moody Hospital.

A surge in the number of norovirus cases in the UK was reported in January 2020, and this led to the closure of numerous hospital beds at the start of the year. MRSA, however, has gained little public attention over recent years. The MRSA Survivors’ Network in the US went ahead with the staging of its twelfth Annual World MRSA Day in October 2020, but this was despite the fact that cases had fallen by 17 per cent every year between 2005 and 2012 and have generally levelled off ever since.

Effective measures

So, is there still an ongoing threat from these “old-fashioned” healthcare-acquired infections? Or are the measures being taken to combat COVID-19 helping to stave off other illnesses as well?

Healthcare chiefs have had little choice but to focus on COVID-19 rather than other healthcare-acquired conditions, says GOJO’s vice-president Chris Wakefield. “The emphasis has needed to be on solutions that combat the coronavirus in order to avoid overwhelming the health service,” he said.

According to Wakefield, anti-COVID measures such as hand washing and sanitising are also effective against healthcare-associated infections such as MRSA, c.difficile, sepsis and norovirus. “Hundreds of studies have proven that good hand hygiene helps to prevent the spread of serious conditions and can reduce healthcare-associated infections by up to 50 per cent,” he said.

“It therefore follows that an enhanced focus on hand and surface hygiene will positively impact the incidence of other infections. Meanwhile, the fact that hospitals are restricting visitors and limiting the number of people allowed on site in general means there are fewer opportunities for germs to enter and spread around buildings.”

GOJO’s Purell advanced hygienic hand rub, surface sanitising spray and wipes are all said to be effective against the coronavirus with a contact time of 30 seconds, it says. “This is key in a busy healthcare setting,” Wakefield said.

Today’s enhanced cleaning and hand hygiene protocols have spelled good news for infection control teams in general, he believes. “It is important that people continue to adhere to these good practicesonce the pandemic eventually eases,” says Wakefield.

Kärcher has reworked its healthcare strategy in the light of the pandemic, according to international sales and business development manager for detergents and manual tools Christoph Weisse.
“All our solutions and cleaning recommendations are designed to stop germs from being spread from one place to another and to help prevent conditions such as MRSA, c.difficile, sepsis and the norovirus,” he said.

Sanitation and disinfection measures in healthcare facilities everywhere have been significantly stepped up as a result of the pandemic, he claims. “Demand for units that allow large areas to be disinfected in a short space of time has been huge.” Kärcher’s PS 4/7 Bp hospital-grade misting system is said to be effective against the coronavirus.

Higher frequency cleaning

Infection prevention has always been vital in any healthcare facility according to Jangro’s ceo Joanne Gilliard.  “COVID-19 hasn’t really changed the way in which cleaning is performed - but it has increased its frequency,” she said. “It has also led to a surge in demand for cleaning and hygiene products and has impacted operatives in other ways, such as in the increased use of comprehensive PPE.”

According to Gilliard, the Jangro Enviro H6 General All Purpose Sanitiser is effective at killing all enveloped viruses including the coronavirus.

She agrees with Nielsen that today’s enhanced cleaning protocols are having a positive impact on combating all types of infections and viruses. “Buildings that are regularly cleaned hygienically – and that have a strong culture of hand hygiene compliance - are inevitably going to be healthy spaces,” she said. “This can only be good news for infection control teams, whose ultimate aim is to prevent the spread of germs within their facility.”

Clenetix director and co-founder of Mark Hazelwood is also of the view that hospital-acquired infections in general can be kept at bay with the aid of good, basic cleaning and hand hygiene. “COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of hygiene and has established a vital connection between hand washing and the spread of infection,” he said. “The focus might be on COVID now, but the preventative hygiene measures taken to tackle the pandemic will stop the spread of other infections as well in the future.”

The importance of cleaning and hand hygiene will not simply fade away when the pandemic is over, he says. “This heightened sense of awareness around hygiene is here to stay and people will remain extra vigilant for many years to come - particularly in healthcare facilities where vulnerability is higher,” said Hazelwood. Clenetix offers software designed to improve cleaning practices and provide cleaners with clear instructions on what needs to be cleaned when.

Cleaners operating in the healthcare sector have a greater responsibility than ever during the current pandemic, says Hazelwood. “Visitors, patients, staff and residents all want to know that the space they are occupying is COVID-safe,” he said. “As with conditions such as MRSA, COVID prevention requires good, basic hygiene.  It’s not about deploying the latest gadgets such as robots or fogging machines - it’s about doing the basics, and doing them well.”

Essity’s healthcare hygiene marketing director Thomas Bergin believes we should never overlook the threat posed by HAIs such as MRSA, c.difficile and the norovirus. “While it’s hard to prevent such conditions from being eclipsed by a pandemic the size and scope of COVID-19, it is important that the coronavirus should not dictate the healthcare focus entirely,” he said. “Ensuring HAI numbers remain low over the long term should still be a high priority in any healthcare environment.”

Always important

According to Bergin, hand and surface hygiene are as vitally important now as they have ever been. “Healthcare has always required a clean and safe care environment, but COVID-19 has added a new level of complexity to the day-to-day challenges,” he said.

He adds that the current focus on hygiene due to COVID-19 has helped to improve cleaning standards in general and make healthcare professionals more aware of how to clean effectively.
“While this remains a very challenging time, the pandemic has had the effect of highlighting the importance of hygiene in all care settings,” he said.

Essity’s latest healthcare offerings are new Tork Microfibre Surface Cleaning Cloths for surface cleaning, and a training package designed to support hospital cleaning teams. Tork Interactive Clean Hospital Training is said to take cleaners through real world scenarios in an engaging way and is available in a range of languages including Spanish, Italian, Arabic and Somali.

“At times of pressure it is more important than ever that good hygiene practices are employed and that they are aided by robust training and reinforcement tools,” said Bergin. “These can help to ensure good hygiene behaviours become second nature to front-line staff.”

Insider Facility Services marketing and purchasing manager Thor Nielsen feels healthcare issues such as MRSA, c.difficile, sepsis and the norovirus have simply faded from public attention since the start of the pandemic.

“The reason for this could be down to the enhanced cleaning and hygiene initiatives in place, or it could simply be because people in the community are now more reluctant to contact their local practice if they feel ill for fear of catching COVID-19,” he said.

Insider Facility Services has introduced Wetrok Plexistar Pro for cleaning protective panels and is offering an enhanced cleaning service during the pandemic. “This is like normal everyday cleaning, but with a disinfectant content,” said Nielsen.

He believes that today’s enhanced cleaning and hand washing protocols have had a positive impact on infection control in general. “One can only hope that this new awareness of cleaning and hand hygiene will remain in place when things get back to normal,” he said. “It will be good for our industry if there is a renewed focus on cleaning quality.”


Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited