Keeping it clean for Global Handwashing Day | Care UK

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Keeping it clean for Global Handwashing Day

October 13 2015

Global Handwashing Day (15 October) aims to increase awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing as a way of preventing diseases and saving lives.

Debra Nicholson, infection prevention lead nurse at Emersons Green NHS Treatment Centre, describes two common types of infection in hospital – MRSA and Clostridium difficile.

Infections in hospitals often grab the headlines. Care UK has never had a case of MRSA or Clostridium difficile in our treatment centres and our teams work hard to ensure we remain infection-free, with a number of initiatives ranging from screening patients at their first consultation, to colleague training, deep cleaning and hand washing policies.


MRSA, or Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Areus, is a bacterium that’s responsible for a number of difficult to treat infections in humans. It can occur in hospitals because patients with open wounds, invasive medical devices and weakened immune systems, are at a greater risk of infection than the wider population. Healthy people can carry MRSA without showing any sign of symptoms for periods from a few weeks to many years.

Detection of MRSA is carried out by swabbing the inside of the nostrils and isolating the bacteria. The spread of MRSA can be restricted by introducing additional cleaning measures and stringent hand hygiene. In many countries the routine screening of patients admitted to hospital has also been found to be an effective way of halting the infection.

MRSA bacteraemia can progress quickly within 24 to 48 hours of initial symptoms. After 72 hours it can take hold in human tissue and eventually become resistant to treatment. If a patient has an MRSA infection it will affect the healing process, so if they’ve a wound it’ll take longer to heal and they have to take specific antibiotics.

About 75 per cent of MRSA infections are restricted to skin and soft tissue and can usually be treated successfully. However, in rare cases, MRSA can affect vital organs and lead to widespread infection, toxic shock syndrome and necrotising (‘flesh-eating’) fasciitis.

Clostridium difficile

Clostridium difficile is a spore that causes diarrhoea and other intestinal disease. It often takes hold when competing bacteria in the gut flora are destroyed by antibiotics. It’s the most serious cause of antibiotic-related diarrhoea and can lead to severe infections of the colon.

A very small percentage of the population have Clostridium difficile occurring naturally in their gut with no sign of symptoms. Other people accidentally acquire spores of the bacteria when they’re patients in a hospital, nursing home or other facility.

Symptoms of Clostridium difficile often mimic flu. Mild cases can be cured by simply stopping the antibiotics involved. In more serious cases there are drugs available that are taken orally.

The presence of any of the following signs – significant diarrhoea; recent antibiotic exposure; abdominal pain; fever; and/or foul stool odour – are recognised as indicators for the presence of Clostridium difficile.

Washing your hands is a great way to reduce the risk of passing on an infection and this is good practice in the home as well as in hospital environments. More information about Global Handwashing Day can be found here.

Care UK is the largest independent sector provider of NHS healthcare services, which include general practice and out of hours, treatment centres specialising in elective surgery, the NHS 111 helpline, urgent care centres, health in justice and clinical assessment and treatment services.

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