Massage therapists know that proper hand hygiene is essential, and two new research studies contribute to this knowledge.

The studies found that increased hand-hygiene knowledge positively correlates with a decreased risk of transmitting infection among both health care workers and elementary school children.

In the first study, 71 nurses, infection preventionists and hospital environmental services managers participated in a national survey gauging hand-hygiene knowledge and beliefs.

Each health care worker assessed 16 real-life simulations designed to test his or her perceived risk of infection, based on level of hygiene knowledge as well as internal health locus of control, a measurement of how much influence he or she perceived as having over controlling the spread of infection.

The study found that across all knowledge and health locus of control levels, health care workers perceived surfaces as safer to touch than patient skin, in spite of research that has proven touching one contaminated surface (known as a fomite) can spread bacteria to up to the next seven surfaces touched.

“Despite the dangers that fomites present, this knowledge may not be common enough among health care workers for them to understand the level of risk when touching surfaces and then touching patients,” say the authors.

The second study looked at hand-washing programs among school children and found such programs may have a lasting effect in reducing school absences.

A three-month targeted intervention to reduce student absenteeism through increased hand hygiene was conducted in 2008. Infection preventionist Inge Nandrup-Bus, R.N., directed the study at two elementary schools in Denmark and compared her results to a similar study she performed in 2007, the only significant change being that for the second trial, the intervention school and the control school (CS) were reversed.

At the intervention school, 324 pupils ages 5-14 years were each given one lesson in hand-disinfection theory and practice and directed to disinfect their hands using ethanol gel three times throughout the school day. Over the three months of the intervention, this measure resulted in a 66 percent decrease in pupils with four or more days of absence and a 20 percent increase in children with zero absences over the 2007 data from the same school.

In the control school, however, which had been the intervention school the prior year in hand washing, no significant changes were noted between 2007 and 2008—a result that strongly suggests that even with low participation rates (20 percent in 2007 and 21 percent in 2008) and the passage of time, merely increasing hand-hygiene education can have a long-term, significant impact on the spread of infection.

Both studies were published in the August issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, the official publication of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

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