Focus on hand hygiene reduces norovirus outbreaks

28 Nov 2016 | Infection Prevention & Control

In 2014 Waikato District Health Board (DHB) experienced two severe outbreaks of norovirus, a highly-infectious bug which can cause severe diarrhoea and vomiting.

The first outbreak was in the mental health and addition service. While the outbreak was well managed, eight wards were affected across several floors and included 19 staff and three patients. A second outbreak at Te Kuiti Hospital affected four patients and staff.

Vicki Parry, charge nurse manager infection prevention and control at Waikato DHB says that following these cases, her team developed a package of interventions to reduce the risk of future outbreaks and improve hand hygiene compliance.

Hand hygiene has been a major focus at the DHB since the Hand Hygiene New Zealand programme began eight years ago. While the DHB had seen improvements over time the norovirus outbreaks gave the infection prevention and control team greater opportunities to demonstrate the importance of correct hand hygiene.

Since introducing the package over two years ago, the DHB has not had a norovirus outbreak and their hand hygiene rates have shown steady improvement.

The package includes a step-by-step guide to dealing with affected patients, any areas and body fluids they come into contact with; the process for early identification and reporting of infections; and highlighted the need for taking specimens early to identify the type of infection.

‘When we implemented the package, staff identified some issues with integrating the new practices into their daily work,’ says Vicki.

‘This is where frontline ownership made a big difference. Areas of the hospital discussed how they could help integrate the new processes in their wards.’

‘Our team supports frontline ownership because we’ve seen greater success using the technique than with any other method. Each ward knows what works best in their area so, instead of telling people how it should be done, we encourage them to make those decisions.’

‘On our infection prevention and control website we share resources which were created with input from staff on the wards. The resources are available to all areas so they can share and learn from each other.’

Vicki and her team are proud of their success and hope they continue to see improvement.

‘The hardest thing is keeping infection prevention a priority when there aren’t outbreaks because it’s not obvious to staff, so it’s always a work in progress.'

Last updated 16/12/2016