Researchers focused on two main types of antibiotic-resistant infections that affect patients in hospitals and other health care facilities: methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE).
A multitude of research shows that health care workers get bacteria on their hands and clothing by touching patients. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of gloves and gowns -- "contact precautions" -- when caring for patients known to be colonized (a carrier for) or infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
However, the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria goes undetected in many patients and so contact precautions are not used. It was not known if requiring health care workers to wear gloves and gowns when dealing with all patients -- not just those known to be colonized -- would reduce the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
In an attempt to answer that question, researchers conducted a study in medical and surgical ICUs in 20 U.S. hospitals from January 2012 to October 2012. In some of the ICUs, all health care workers wore gloves and gowns for all patient contact and when entering any patient room.
These measures did not reduce rates of VRE infection, but did reduce rates of MRSA infection, according to Dr. Anthony Harris, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and colleagues.
The study was published online Oct. 4 in the Journal of the American Medical Association and scheduled for Friday presentation at ID Week, a meeting held by the infectious diseases society of America, in San Francisco.
The findings show that "one size does not fit all" when it comes to preventing infections in the ICU, Dr. Preeti Malani, of the University of Michigan Health System and Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System, wrote in an accompanying editorial.
Efforts to reduce infections must be tailored to the circumstances and resources of specific ICUs, Malani wrote, according to a journal news release.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about health care-acquired infections.