Wash your hands of sepsis

23 August 2018

Sepsis, the body’s overactive and toxic response to an infection, is life-threatening and reported to affect more than 30 million people worldwide every year, yet it remains a relatively unknown issue. Chris Wakefield, vice president, European marketing & product development at GOJO Industries-Europe, discusses what can be done to help tackle sepsis and strengthen preventative measures

Sepsis is a rare but serious complication of an infection. The Global Sepsis Alliance describes it as "a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body's response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs. Instead of local inflammation resulting from a local infection, which would be the appropriate response, the body’s entire system goes into inflammation".

Dubbed the ‘silent killer’, it is notoriously difficult to diagnose, and without quick treatment, can lead to multiple organ failure and death. In the UK alone, sepsis is believed to be the cause of around 44,000 deaths every year – that’s a greater number than bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined. 

Despite this, it has long been a relatively unknown illness. This year, however, awareness of the life-threatening condition has grown, thanks to high profile coverage on national television, and the ‘It’s in Your Hands’ campaign by the WHO (World Health Organisation), which aims to prevent healthcare associated sepsis through hand hygiene and infection prevention and control (IPC) action. 

Although 80% of sepsis cases are contracted outside of a hospital, hand hygiene plays a huge role in the prevention of infections, which can quickly lead to sepsis, as well as helping to fight the spread of antibiotic resistance. It is an easy and effective way to achieve continued health, well-being and productivity. Worrying research, however, shows that 25% of people don’t wash their hands after using the washroom, while a further 46% don’t wash long enough to be effective. This demonstrates a huge need for education and awareness on why, and when, hands should be cleaned. 

Healthcare workers already make good hand hygiene a part of their daily lives, but visitors and patients themselves must remember to do this too. 

Making hand hygiene second nature

There are three key strategies to employ when influencing hand hygiene behaviour: Accessibility; Formulations; and Signage.

Handwashing facilities must be accessible. The correct choice and positioning is crucial, particularly in busy hospital settings where staff wash their hands repeatedly throughout their shift – the WHO recommends that an adequate number of appropriately positioned hand hygiene facilities should be readily available at the point of care.  

Dispensers must be easy to use. They can be wall-mounted, free-standing, push-activated or touch-free – these type of dispensers are becoming increasingly popular. Intuitively sensing the presence of hands, they dispense just the right amount of product every time, and the fact that they are touch-free also increases their hygiene rating.

Formulations must be gentle but effective against germs. Choose formulations, in gel or foam format, which have been tested and have passed key hospital norms EN 1500, EN 14476 and EN 12791. As well as being hospital grade and safe for use in healthcare locations, the high frequency with which many healthcare workers wash or sanitise their hands means that the formulations must also be kind to skin.

Finally, eye-catching signage, posters and notices can be very effective as a prompt, especially at key germ hot-spots such as washrooms and waiting areas. Good hand hygiene companies can offer sound advice on the most effective approaches, as well as provide materials, based on their knowledge and market insight.

The effective prevention of problems such as sepsis requires education, awareness of good hand hygiene behaviour and its consequences for patient protection. A truly successful hand hygiene programme combines this education and awareness with good aesthetics, accessibility and ease of product use, whilst being equipped with pleasant and effective hygienically advanced formulations.