An evaluation of hand hygiene in an intensive care unit: Are visitors a potential vector for pathogens?

David J. Birnbach, Lisa F. Rosen, Maureen Fitzpatrick, Kristopher L. Arheart, L. Silvia Munoz-Price

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Patients in an intensive care unit (ICU) are frequently immunocompromised and might be highly susceptible to infection. Visitors to an ICU who do not adequately clean their hands could carry pathogenic organisms, resulting in risk to a vulnerable patient population. This observational study identifies pathogens carried on the hands of visitors into an ICU and investigates the effect of hand hygiene.Two observers, one stationed outside and one inside the ICU, evaluated whether visitors performed hand hygiene at any of the wall-mounted alcohol-based hand sanitizer dispensers prior to reaching a patient's room. Upon reaching a patient's room, the dominant hand of all of the participants was cultured.Of the 55 participating visitors, 35 did not disinfect their hands. Among the cultures of those who failed to perform hand hygiene, eight cultures grew Gram-negative rods and one grew methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Of the cultures of the 20 individuals who performed hand hygiene, 14 (70%) had no growth on the cultures, and the remaining six (30%) showed only the usual skin flora.The visitors who do not perform hand hygiene might carry pathogens that pose a risk to ICU patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)570-574
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Infection and Public Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2015


  • Community-acquired infection
  • Hand hygiene
  • Healthcare-associated infection
  • Intensive care unit
  • Patient safety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


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