In an interview with our Medical Director, Dr. Andreas Glöckner, we talked about the current COVID-19 pandemic and took a closer look at hand hygiene in the healthcare sector.
Markus Theißen: Again and again we are confronted with outbreaks of epidemics and pandemics. Be it the avian flu at the beginning of the millennium or the seasonal flu that we have to deal with year after year. At least in our subjective perception, COVID-19 seems to be hitting us relatively hard. What do you think makes the current coronavirus crisis so special?
Dr. Glöckner: It is not only a subjective perception that this pandemic is hitting us hard in almost all areas of life, it is objective reality and this problem will not be solved tomorrow or next week. As long as no effective vaccine is available across the board, we will have to live with new infections and drastic measures in our personal and public environment. People’s compliance with recommended infection prevention measures, including adequate hand hygiene, will also determine the extent of the restrictions.
For me, two things are special from a medical point of view about COVID-19, the high contagiousness, i.e. the transmission capacity of the virus, as well as the significantly higher lethality compared to other viral infections, such as seasonal flu. It is almost incomprehensible how we are socially and especially economically held in check, so to speak, by an “enemy” invisible to the naked eye. There are shortages of medical protective equipment and disinfectants worldwide and in many countries the health care system is on the verge of collapse.
Markus Theißen: You mention hand hygiene. What must you consider when you disinfect hands?
Dr. Glöckner: In contrast to the public and private environment, where hand hygiene is mainly based on washing hands with soap, the medical sector focuses on hygienic hand disinfection with alcohol-based disinfectants. The coronavirus, like the influenza virus, is an enveloped virus. Hand disinfectants must be classified as at least limited virucidal to be effective against the virus.
In addition to the use of the correct type of sanitizer, other criteria are relevant for hygienic hand disinfection. For example, the volume of product used per hand disinfection, the correct rub-in technique and, last but not least, the rub-in time. Each of these factors plays an extremely relevant role in infection prevention, requiring a lot of attention and practice to implement all these requirements in every hand disinfection.
Markus Theißen: In addition to public institutions, hospitals are also making good progress in terms of sanitizer dispensers. What do you think is important?
Dr. Glöckner: Dispenser equipment in patient care areas is mostly good in hospitals, and meets recommendations. As in other public buildings, there is still a lack of equipment for disinfection in the entrance areas, sanitary rooms and canteens. However, this should change in the coming weeks and months. The recent WHO recommendation to equip all public areas with hand sanitizer dispensers is very helpful in this respect.
The COVID-19 pandemic has once again made people aware of the advantages of open dispenser systems, which are not tied to a specific manufacturer for filling goods. In Europe, a common open system is the Euro bottle standard. With open systems, like the Euro bottle standard, healthcare facilities can switch between sanitizer manufactures relatively quickly, enabling greater supply security. In order to cover the significantly increased demand for hand disinfectants, some large hospitals have begun to produce and fill their own products using standard bottles. This procedure is not realistic with a closed dispenser system.
No just since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, much more attention has been placed on hand hygiene in the medical sector, as healthcare facilities strive to find ways meet hand hygiene requirements for effective infection prevention and control. In the meantime, many clinical studies have proven the long-term improvement potential in hand hygiene compliance with the use of electronic hand hygiene monitoring systems. These systems can provide data on hand hygiene virtually around the clock and can therefore identify weak points and help to eliminate them through targeted feedback.
Markus Theißen: Will the COVID-19 pandemic bring about a lasting change in hand hygiene?
Dr. Glöckner: I very much hope that there will be changes in a positive direction. This pandemic clearly puts the focus on infection prevention in society as a whole and many people will become more aware of the importance of hand hygiene. But knowledge of its importance is not enough. What will be decisive is how it hand hygiene is implemented and lived in practice. In order to be able to master the constantly growing challenges posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the near and distant future, it will be essential to significantly improve hand hygiene in the medical field. If this is not successful, we will soon have to suffer significantly more loss of life due to infections. However, I am optimistic that we can – and will – solve these problems by using new technologies and smart engineering.
Markus Theißen: Dr. Glöckner, thank you for the interview.