India has been witnessing an alarming rise in antibiotic resistance, triggered by incomplete treatment or unnecessary use of antibiotics. In September last year, researchers found that a group of researchers found that nearly 60,000 newborn babies die from antibiotic resistant neonatal infections in Delhi hospitals every year after contracting sepsis that is untreatable because the bacteria causing the infections is resistant to drugs.

Now, a new study in the United States shows how difficult it might be to control the spread of antibiotic-resistant bugs, especially in neonatal intensive care units or NICUs, which care of ill or premature infants. The research team from Drexel University has been studying how NICU environments may help the spread of Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA a bacterium that is resistant to most antibiotics and can cause anything from skin infections to the possibly fatal sepsis and pneumonia. They have found that even hospital workers who practiced theoretically perfect hand hygiene could help transfer the bacterium between babies. Even when hospital staff washed their hands following all protocols, just under one in every 100 contacts between a baby and a hospital worker could still result in MRSA transmission. The average stay of an infant in a NICU is nine days during which it is likely to have about 250 contacts with NICU workers that carry risk for MRSA transmission.

The research team also studied hand hygiene in at four different levels of cleanliness and the associated presence of MRSA. They found that the lowest level of cleanliness was associated with a 29% decrease in MRSA prevalence compared to no hand washing. Workers in the two quartiles considered within the average range for hand hygiene had a decrease in MRSA ranging between 51% and 67%.

The study published in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology shows how complex patient care environments are and that infection control can never be perfect. It also indicates that not only hospital staff, but also parents and visitors to the NICU need to follow hospital hygiene procedures and participate in infection control.