Posted 16th Jul 2012 in Infection Prevention & Control

Basic hand hygiene is vital when it comes to reducing the spread of multi-antibiotic resistant bacteria like MRSA[1] and ESBL[2] says the Health Quality & Safety Commission.

An Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) survey reports 1042 cases of MRSA during a month-long survey last year, which is 288 more than the previous year – a 37 percent increase. An increase in antibiotic resistance means infections caused by these bacteria can be harder to treat.

The ESR survey indicated that a number of strains of MRSA are spreading in the community. One strain has increased in prevalence over the past five years. Unlike the strains that are traditionally associated with hospitals, these community MRSA strains are not as resistant to as many types of antibiotics.

Clinical leader of the Commission’s Infection Prevention and Control Programme, Dr Sally Roberts, says the increased prevalence of MRSA in the community is of concern.

“These figures are a strong reminder that, wherever you are, good hand hygiene is extremely important. For health professionals that means performing hand hygiene correctly to reduce the risk that infectious organisms will be spread between patients. Keep skin lesions covered and perform hand hygiene after contact with any infected lesions.

 “At home and in the community, whether you’re using soap and water or hand gel, wash your hands for 20 seconds in warm water. And make sure you dry them properly. For air towels that means 45 seconds, and for 10 seconds each hand if you are using a towel.

“The same message applies to health care workers. Influenza-related admissions place a huge strain on hospitals during the winter months in New Zealand. But evidence shows that good hand hygiene, as well as influenza vaccination, contributes to the prevention of outbreaks and spread of infections, such as influenza, within hospitals.

“It is absolutely the case that clean hands save lives.”

The Health Quality & Safety Commission sponsors the Hand Hygiene New Zealand Programme (HHNZ).

HHNZ recommends health care workers perform hand hygiene according to the World Health Organization’s 5 moments for hand hygiene approach. This requires hand hygiene to be performed at the following times (irrespective of whether or not gloves are used):

  • Before patient contact
  • Before a procedure (including touching, manipulating or accessing an indwelling device)
  • After a procedure or body fluid exposure risk
  • After patient contact
  • After contact with patient surroundings.

For further information, contact Liz Price, Health Quality & Safety Commission, 0276 95 7744.


  [1] Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium that commonly lives in the nose and on the skin. Usually it is harmless and not noticeable. Occasionally Staphylococcus aureus causes boils, wound infections or other infections. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of Staphylococcus aureus that is resistant to some antibiotics. It is no more likely to cause infection than an ordinary Staphylococcus aureus but if an infection occurs it is more difficult to treat.

  [2] ESBLs are bacteria that live in the human bowel and produce enzymes which can inactivate some antibiotics. They are therefore ‘resistant’ to these commonly used antibiotics. (Several other antibiotics will still be effective.) Escherichia coli and Klebsiella species are the most common bacteria producing ESBLs.

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