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Respiratory viruses may linger on health care workers, PPE: study

dr. washing hands

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Chicago — Health care workers commonly carry respiratory viruses on their hands, clothing and personal protective equipment after administering care to patients, accentuating the need to practice “complete hand hygiene and use other PPE to prevent dissemination,” results of a recent study suggest.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Epicenter for Prevention of Healthcare Associated Infections analyzed swab samples collected from the PPE of 59 health care workers before further sampling the workers’ hands, faces and medical scrubs. Findings showed that viruses were present in 31% of glove samples, 21% of gowns and 12% of facemasks. Additionally, 21% of hand samples tested positive for viruses, as well as 11% of scrubs and 7% of face samples.

“Although many respiratory viruses do not necessarily cause severe illness in otherwise healthy adults, occupationally acquired respiratory infections can decrease productivity, cause health care providers to miss work, and contribute to the burden of disease in health care settings and in the community,” Rachael Jones, study co-author and associate professor of family and preventive medicine at the University of Utah, wrote in an email to Safety+Health.

Also corresponding with S+H via email, Linh Phan, lead study author and research safety specialist and industrial hygienist at Stanford University, reiterated the need for health care workers to follow proper hand hygiene.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands with soap and water. However, if these are not available, the agency suggests an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. CDC recommends rubbing hand sanitizer on all surfaces of your hands and fingers until dry, which should take about 20 seconds.


Phan and Jones said health care workers can modify self-contact practices to reduce the risk of self-contamination.

“It is possible for individuals to change their behaviors – to train themselves to avoid touching their nose and mouth, for example, when performing patient care activities, which would reduce the transfer of virus to the mucous membranes,” Jones wrote.

The study was published in the December issue of the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

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