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Why language matters: a tour through hand hygiene literature

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BACKGROUND: Hand hygiene has evolved over the last decades and many terminologies emerged. We aimed to analyse the evolution in the frequency of utilization of key hand hygiene terms in the literature along the years. METHODS: We identified keywords and Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) used in MEDLINE® indexation related to hand hygiene by searching international guidelines and the MeSH database. We performed a MEDLINE® search combining the selected keywords and MeSH and analysed the number of publications retrieved yearly. RESULTS: The literature search yielded 9019 publications when all hand hygiene related search terms were combined, between 1921 and November 2016. The total number of publications per year increased from a median of 4 (IQR 3, 6) in the 1950's to 554 (IQR 478, 583) between 2011 and 2015. The most frequently used keywords are hand disinfection, hand hygiene, hand washing, handrub, hand sanitizer and alcohol-based hand rub (ABHR). Until the 1990s, hand disinfection and hand washing were the most frequently used terms. Whilst the last decade has seen a remarkable increase in publications mentioning hand disinfection and hand hygiene and for the first time handrub, hand sanitizers and ABHR were introduced in the literature. Hand disinfection, hand hygiene and hand sanitizers are the main MeSH used by MEDLINE®. Since 2013 hand hygiene is the most frequently used MeSH and keyword. CONCLUSIONS: The change seen in literature in the last two decades, from hand washing and hand disinfection to hand hygiene, most probably reflect the paradigm shift favouring use of ABHR over soap and water promoted by international guidelines in the early 2000s.




Pires, D., Tartari, E., Bellissimo-Rodrigues, F., & Pittet, D. (2017). Why language matters: a tour through hand hygiene literature. Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control, 6, 65.

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