February 15, 2024

Studies link bacteria from long nurse fingernails to lethal infections in infants

Editor's Note

Without proper nail care, proper handwashing might not be enough to prevent infection and death among infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

That’s according to a February 8 report from nurse.org, which drove home the importance of following hygiene protocols by highlighting real-world evidence confirming the risks posed by long and/or fake nails. Written in response surging online interest in the topic after another article detailed a real-world case of an infant death being traced to nail bacteria, the report cited two studies.

The first study, published in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, was initiated after 11 deaths in one NICU were traced to bacterial infection. Results indicated that NICU nurses with long or artificial nails were more likely to test positive for P. aeruginosa. The study suggests that long nails may harbor more bacteria and may be harder to clean.

The second study found a connection between long fingernails and 16 lethal NICU infections at a hospital in Oklahoma. One study author emphasizes that “there was no definitive means to ascertain this as the transmission mechanism,” but the connection was “sufficiently robust to warrant reporting.”

“The studies highlight the need for continued vigilance with hand hygiene best practices in healthcare settings,” the nurse.org report concludes. “By following proper hand hygiene and nail care guidelines, healthcare workers can limit the spread of dangerous pathogens and protect the vulnerable patients under their care.”


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