One in four elderly individuals carries an unwanted feature of hospitals on his hands: superbugs, or drug-resistant bacteria that pose a great threat to healthcare worldwide.

Furthermore, seniors who visit nursing homes or other post-acute care (PAC) facilities will keep getting new superbugs during their stay, warned University of Michigan researchers in a research letter.

The team has analyzed 357 elderly subjects admitted in southeast Michigan hospitals for a medical or surgical concern, or certain health care facilities that provide added medical care before they return home. These older individuals often stay longer in a care facility to be rehabilitated post-surgery.

They found that one-quarter or 24.1 percent of the subjects had a minimum of one superbug or multidrug-resistant organism on their hands after checking in.

Upon testing the same subjects' hands biweekly and monthly for up to six months or at the time of discharge from the facility, the researchers saw that the superbugs persisted. The number of those with superbugs on their hands also increased to 34.2 percent, or more than one out of three seniors.

Lead author Dr. Lona Mody warned that it is not only hospital workers who should be taught about optimal hand hygiene.

"[T]hese numbers show it's time to include patients in their own hand hygiene performance and education," she says, adding that .handwashing among patients is not routine procedure in health care centers.

A great deal of these superbugs on patients' hands raises the risk of transmission to weak patients and health care personnel, and in fact flourishes even more from the frequent use of antibiotics in the area.

Antibiotic overuse is pinpointed in the evolution of certain bacterial strains, making them stronger and more resistant to common drug treatments. A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report this month urged for greater efforts to prevent and fight the spread of superbugs and hospital-acquired infections.

Dr. Mody's team developed a PAC toolkit to help train employees in infection control, providing posters, modules, and questionnaires about hand hygiene. They also promote the consistent availability of hand products on-site, such as alcohol gels.

Mody added that new policies to stop the spread of superbugs should take into account that seniors are now getting more active, moving and socializing more, and therefore touching more areas in the PAC environment.

The results were published March 14 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

In light of the superbug problem and other illnesses, experts continue to promote the importance of basic handwashing.

"[W]ash your hands frequently with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds," reminds Dr. Karen Smith, director of the California public health department.

Photo: John Starnes | Flickr

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