“Clean hands save lives,” or so the World Health Organization (WHO) saying goes, for preventing human disease transmission. Clean hands can also save horse lives, said one Belgian equine surgeon recently, but not necessarily without adopting alcohol-based rubs (in place of traditional alkaline medicated soaps) and taking other steps to preserve protective natural barriers.

Denis Verwilghen, DVM, MSc, PhD, DES, Dipl. ECVS, associate professor in Large Animal Surgery at Denmark’s University of Copenhagen, along with colleagues from Canada’s Ontario Veterinary College, came away with these lessons when they dug into scientific evidence regarding hand hygiene in both the human and equine medical communities. Verwilghen presented their findings during an infectious disease-focused session at the 2014 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 6-10 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Skin health among veterinarians is important,” said Verwilghen. Perhaps not surprisingly, if you compare a vet clinic barn to a human hospital, “there are more potentially pathogenic bacteria on practitioners’ hands in the veterinary sector than in human health sector.” He said some of his recent research described the flora veterinarians carry around.

Although pre-surgical hand asepsis are part of the basic principles for every surgical intervention, Verwilghen said that out of a 2009 survey of ECVS (European College of Veterinary Surgeons) and ACVS (American College of Veterinary Surgeons) surgery specialists, only 6.7% of respondents said they were following current WHO guidelines for them. Repeating the s