Hygiene is most potent force in tackling deadly diseases

Rapid and sustained implementation of stringent infection control procedures by healthcare workers in hospitals such as wearing masks, gowns and washing hands regularly is the single most important measure in combating the spread of new, infectious diseases for which there is no treatment of vaccine, according to research findings by US scientists* to be published in Proceedings B, a learned journal produced by the Royal Society. Using a mathematical model of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the scientists examined how untreatable infectious diseases that spread rapidly in a hospital environment could best be dealt with. They found that inexpensive and easily implemented hospital-wide contact precautions are the most potent of all disease control measures, and can even substitute for alternative approached such as expensive isolation facilities, quarantine, and sequestration of healthcare workers. Their findings have significant implications for all countries and particularly those with limited resources.

"New, untreatable infectious diseases pose a growing risk as globalisation leads to unprecedented human mobility, and they will continue to challenge public health systems worldwide. Our study examined priorities and trade-offs how one measure can compensate for another which isn't available in a given setting between alternative strategies of disease control," says scientist James Lloyd-Smith.

Healthcare workers comprised an alarmingly high proportion of SARS cases 61 per cent in Hanoi and around 50 per cent in Toronto so the study focuses on hospitals and their surrounding communities. The model shows that hospital-wide infection controls are more important than, for example, precautions specific to known SARS patients, since hospital-wide precautions block transmission in unidentified cases as well. In every scenario examined, a breakdown in general infection control was more damaging to disease containment efforts than a bre

Contact: Elaine Calvert
Royal Society

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