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BBC: Hand Washing Can Prevent Infection, Help Avoid Antibiotic Overuse

Jonathan Grein, MD, medical director of the Cedars-Sinai Department of Hospital Epidemiology, was interviewed recently for a special BBC World Service program about the overuse of antibiotic medications and how overpresciribing those drugs can negatively affect health around the world.

The BBC special report by Aleks Krotoski and Ben Hammersley examines how medical science can prepare us for a future in which antibiotic overuse may render these medications ineffective allowing small infections to have big consequences.

In some ways, the future is here already. Because bacteria are always mutating, the development of antibiotic resistance is normal, the program explains. More than 700,000 people die each year around the world from drug-resistant infections.

Because hospitals are on the front lines of tackling antibiotic resistance, Hammersley visited Grein at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to learn how to avoid getting an infection that doesn't respond to antibiotics. Grein’s advice: Wash your hands thoroughly and often.

“You want to make sure you get all the surfaces. Friction is important. You want to physically remove any bacteria on your skin,” Grein instructed. “Get them wet, put soap on and rub for 15 seconds,” Grein told the BBC. 

Grein also listed a number of precautions that Cedars-Sinai uses to avoid spreading bacteria. The health system maintains clean environments, ensures healthcare workers wash their hands between patients and uses a variety of precautions during surgical procedures, Grein told the BBC. When patients do need antibiotics, Grein said they get the most effective drugs as quickly as possible and only for as long as is necessary.

“The more you use antibiotics, the less useful they become over time, for the patient and the community,” Grein said. 

Grein also told the BBC that the general public can do their part in limiting the spread of bacteria by washing their hands properly and getting vaccinated.

Click here to listen to the complete program on the BBC’s website.


Photo of four spherical MRSA bacteria being enveloped and destroyed by human white blood cells courtesy of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).