It got you to stop smoking, will it make you wash your hands?

Shocking health statements and disgusting images have been used effectively to encourage people to give up smoking, could a similar strategy be used in infection control?

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A press release caught my eye today. Was it because it contained a picture of an agar plate? Well, yes, it might have been, but when I read further I was intrigued to say the least. A team from the the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit suggest that you can improve hygiene compliance among healthcare workers by using the "Yuck Factor".

Ashley Gregory explains in this video, that by showing "disgusting" photos of agar plates to healthcare workers, they were more likely to follow the hand hygiene protocols.

When I saw this I immediately thought of the warning labels on cigarettes that have been getting more and more graphic over the years in an attempt to put people off smoking. Is this the same kind of approach and will it work to get people to wash their hands? Will it ultimately reduce the spread of infection and antibiotic resistance in hospitals?

It's an interesting idea. It's clear that, for all of our work in the microbiology lab, we cannot account for policy and habits in the hospital ward which have a huge effect on the spread of bacteria. Maybe putting images of agar plates everywhere will encourage people to wash their hands more. If it does work, then why stop in hospitals, maybe we should have these pictures up in washrooms and kitchens around the world.


The information from this post came from a press release from the Henry Ford Hospital for a study that will be presented at the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology’s annual conference June 11-13 in Charlotte, N.C.

Post photo used under Creative Commons taken by Melanie Tata

Ben Libberton

Science Communicator, Freelance

I'm a freelance science communicator, formerly a Postdoc in the biofilm field. I'm interested in how bacteria cause disease and look to technology to produce novel tools to study and ultimately prevent infection.