|Anthony Harris, MD MPH|
I have a lot of admiration for this blog and in the spirit of academics, I would like to share my somewhat different interpretation of the contact precautions literature. I offer three points for your consideration:
1. Contact precautions do not lead to an increase in adverse events:
Instead of the frequently cited small observational studies, I think it is most important to focus on the one randomized trial that evaluated adverse events associated with contact precautions (I acknowledge my bias in that it is the study I led). A randomized trial should most often trump observational studies especially since it's near impossible to control for confounding by indication, i.e. why was the patient placed on contact precautions. In fact, the latest analysis of our randomized trial data showed a trend towards decreased adverse events in the universal contact precaution arm. (See: Croft L et al. Clin Infect Dis. 2015 Aug 15;61(4):545-53). To quote from the Conclusion: "Concerns of adverse events resulting from universal glove and gown use were not supported." So we should be clear that other than the cost issues of gloves and gowns no high level study has shown any adverse events from contact precautions. Healthcare workers do go into the patient room less often when the patient is on contact precautions but this has not been shown to lead to an increase in adverse events. In my experience (and the data supports this), healthcare workers just bundle their activities and thus perform the same activities in the room with fewer visits.
2. Methodological problems in studies that have removed contact precautions:
Studies that show no effect of removing contact precautions have serious methodological problems. The largest problem is that they are incredibly under-powered. The studies that show “no difference when you remove contact precautions” are too small to detect a difference and thus may falsely conclude that removing contact precautions is safe.
3. Need a better solution before removing the current standard of contact precautions:
As much as I would love to stop wearing gloves and gowns, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a continuing problem. They are not going away and other than MRSA, they are not decreasing. Until we have better solutions, I believe that we should not be abandoning contact precautions. This is particularly true in high risk settings such as the ICU. In the ICU where acquisition of an MDRO leads to infection 20-30% of the time during the index ICU admission, the stakes are too high not to prevent patient-to-patient transmission. I believe that the phase 0, phase 1 and phase 2 data on contact precautions are strong and the biologic plausibility that they prevent patient-to-patient transmission so strong that I don’t think we should abandon contact precautions based on underpowered "removal studies" and an adverse-event literature with few studies with strong internal validity. Of course there are certain settings and certain bacteria where removing contact precautions might make sense and these scenarios should be studied using large, sufficiently powered and methodologically sound trials.