Long nails can contribute to infection outbreaks

Artificial or natural nails that extend more than one-fourth of an inch beyond the fingertip can harbor more pathogens than short nails, leading to more outbreaks, according to a Feb. 8 article published on Nurse.org.

Longer nails create additional surface area for microbes to grow and can impede proper hand washing. This can allow infections to spread to patients through touch.

Three incidents linked NICU nurses with long nails to infection outbreaks and baby deaths.

A study published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology found a possible connection between long nails and an outbreak of Pseudomonas aeruginosa in a neonatal intensive care unit that lasted five months and infected 10 infants. Swabs of hands of NICU nurses showed those with long nails were more likely to test positive for P. aeruginosa, especially under the nails. When nurses trimmed their long nails, the number of new cases dropped.

A second study found long fingernails on nurses correlated to a lethal infectious breakout in 16 newborns. The 16 infants died in 1997 and 1998 in an Oklahoma City hospital intensive care unit. The pathogen was found under the long nails of two nurses.

A Kevin MD article discussed the death of a NICU baby who was infected with E. coli from a nurse's long nails.

Continued adherence to hand hygiene best practices, including short nails, can limit the spread of pathogens and protect vulnerable patients, the Nurse.org article said.

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