Proper Hand Hygiene Prevents Equine Disease

A veterinarian reviews proper hand hygiene techniques to help prevent equine disease spread during exams and procedures.
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“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 survey four years later showed that such practices had improved, but 66% still did not comply with current guidelines

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Written by:

Stephanie L. Church, Editorial Director, grew up riding and caring for her family’s horses in Central Virginia and received a B.A. in journalism and equestrian studies from Averett University. She joined The Horse in 1999 and has led the editorial team since 2010. A 4-H and Pony Club graduate, she enjoys dressage, eventing, and trail riding with her former graded-stakes-winning Thoroughbred gelding, It Happened Again (“Happy”). Stephanie and Happy are based in Lexington, Kentucky.

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