It's time to raise bar on hygiene, study says

It's time to raise bar on hygiene, study says

DVMs found at risk of disease, infections
Sep 01, 2008

Atlanta — Veterinarians "in general have a roguish attitude" toward protecting themselves against dangerous infections and zoonotic diseases.

That's the word from a veterinarian at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control who helped conduct a major study of infection-control practices within the profession.

"I can't say we were overly surprised at our findings on issues like the prevalent recapping of needles and improper or lack of hand-washing," Jennifer H. McQuiston, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVPM (preventive medicine), tells DVM Newsmagazine.

See the Related Links below to read more about the zoonotic diseases veterinarians risk with poor hygiene
Lax attention to these and other simple precautions is particularly serious in light of several emerging zoonotic diseases and ongoing classic threats like rabies and leptospirosis, the researchers say. ( Click here to read more about the zoonotic diseases veterinarians risk with poor hygiene.)

Veterinarians, considered among the most vulnerable to such perils because of their frequent contact with animals, should be leading the medical field in proper hygienic practices, but instead were found lacking in many of them.

And males seemed to fall short in taking precautions more often than female practitioners, according to the researchers.

McQuiston worked with lead researcher Jennifer G. Wright, DVM, MPH, Dipl. ACVPM, and three other CDC colleagues to conduct the study entitled "Infection control practices and disease risks among veterinarians in the United States."

Table 1 Use of proper precautions in common practice scenarios
"I've worked out in the field and know the routine," McQuiston says. "We clearly understood that the profession doesn't always look at things from the zoonotic-disease perspective. For some, wearing latex gloves is for aesthetic reasons more than to protect from infection. But we hope to bring greater awareness to some practices that can pose a threat."

The CDC undertook the study in 2005 in collaboration with the American Veterinary Medical Association, whose 2004 membership list was used to select small-animal, large-animal and equine veterinarians at random to receive a two-page questionnaire. Peer review was completed recently, and the study was published in its entirety in the June 15, 2008 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA).

After allowing three months for responses, the researchers culled them and wound up with a final sampling of 1,842 veterinarians, including 1,070 small-animal practitioners, 316 large-animal DVMs and 456 equine veterinarians. They ranged in age from 24 to 77, with a median age of 45 for the small-animal group, 46 for large-animal and 43 for equine.

Their goal was to assess respondents' knowledge and use of infection-control measures, and they looked at each of the three practice types individually. "We made it a point not to compare one to another, because they work in different environments, each with their own types of risks and behaviors. We analyzed each practice type separately," McQuiston explains. These were the overall conclusions, as reported in the published study:

1. "Most U.S. veterinarians are not aware of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) use, and do not engage in practices that may help reduce the transmission of zoonotic diseases.

2. "Gender differences may influence personal choices for ICP (infection-control practice).

3. "Provision of information and training on ICPs and establishment of written infection-control policies could be an effective means of improving ICPs in veterinary practices."

What is the urgency for practititioners and their staffs to improve hygienic practices?

What practices can do
Besides the obvious personal health risks, one is that failure to educate staff about zoonotic disease threats, and to develop and implement a written policy, can have legal and occupational-health consequences for individuals and practices, the researchers say.