A new study shows that requiring health care workers to wear gloves and gowns for all contact with intensive care unit (ICU) patients reduces the risk of one type of antibiotic-resistant infection, but not another.
Researchers focused on two main types of antibiotic-resistant infections that affect patients in hospitals and other health care facilities: methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE).
A multitude of research shows that health care workers get bacteria on their hands and clothing by touching patients.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of gloves and gowns – "contact precautions" – when caring for patients known to be colonised (a carrier for) or infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
However, the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria goes undetected in many patients and contact precautions are not used. It was not known if requiring health care workers to wear gloves and gowns when dealing with all patients – not just those known to be colonised – would reduce the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
'One size does not fit all'
In an attempt to answer that question, researchers conducted a study in medical and surgical ICUs in 20 US hospitals from January to October 2012.
All health care workers wore gloves and gowns in some of the ICUs for patient contact and when entering any patient room.
These measures did not reduce rates of VRE infection, but did reduce rates of MRSA infection, according to Dr Anthony Harris of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The findings show that "one size does not fit all" when it comes to preventing infections in the ICU, wrote Dr Preeti Malani of the University of Michigan's Health System and Veterans Affairs Ann Arbour Healthcare System.
He said that efforts to reduce infections should be tailored to the circumstances and resources of specific ICUs, Dr Malani wrote
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has more about health care-acquired infections.