Combined use of alcohol hand rub and gloves reduces the incidence of late onset infection in very low birthweight infants

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Objective:To assess the incidence of late onset (> 72 hours) infection and necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) in very low birthweight (VLBW) infants in two 36 month periods using two hand hygiene protocols: conventional handwashing (HW; first 36 month period); an alcohol hand rub and gloves technique (HR; second 36 month period).Method:VLBW infants admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit during the period December 1993–November 1999 were eligible. A new hand hygiene protocol using alcohol handrub and gloves was introduced in December 1996. Each patient’s case record was reviewed retrospectively by two independent investigators using a standard data collection form. The incidence of NEC and systemic infections, including bacterial or fungal septicaemia, meningitis, and peritonitis, in the two periods were compared.Results:The HW and HR groups contained 161 and 176 VLBW infants respectively. The incidence of late onset systemic infection decreased from 13.5 to 4.8 episodes (including NEC)/1000 patient days after introduction of the HR regimen, representing a 2.8-fold reduction. Similarly, the incidence of Gram positive, Gram negative, and fungal infections decreased 2.5-fold, 2.6-fold, and 7-fold respectively. There was also a significant reduction in the incidence of NEC in the HR group (p < 0.0001). Subgroup analysis revealed that the incidence of methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) septicaemia was significantly decreased in the second 36 month period (p  =  0.048). The clinical data suggest that infants in the HW group had significantly earlier onset of sepsis (p < 0.05) and required oxygen supplementation for longer (p < 0.05) than those in the HR group. Significantly more VLBW infants were discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit without ever being infected (p < 0.0001), and also significantly fewer infants had more than one episode of infection in the HR group (p < 0.0001).Conclusion:The introduction of the HR protocol was associated with a 2.8-fold reduction in the incidence of late onset systemic infection, and also a significant decrease in the incidence of MRSA septicaemia and NEC in VLBW infants. This decrease in infection rate was maintained throughout the second 36 month period.

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