Targeted hygiene key for a healthy future

Conclusions from the Hygiene Forum on 10 October 2017

Looking back on a very useful, educational and inspiring Hygiene Forum 2017, one main conclusion comes to mind: instead of worrying about being 'too clean' or about the unsubstantiated link between biocide use and antibiotics resistance, we need to start focussing on 'targeted hygiene': hygiene practices applied at the most critical points and at critical times to break the chain of infection.

Dr. John Hines (Deb Group) already referred to this principle after a very interesting look at how hygiene has evolved through the ages: from a matter of life and death and it's development into a true science to a false sense of comfort that has led to an undeserved decrease in focus on hygiene. Prof. dr. Sally Bloomfield (IFH) followed by putting the misnomer 'hygiene hypothesis' in perspective, explaining that the most likely causes of the rise of allergic diseases in early childhood are not increased hygiene or being 'too clean'. This hypothesis is undermining confidence in hygiene at a time where we should instead invest in improving public hygiene and good hygiene practices.

That the general public can improve its hygiene practices was reiterated by prof. dr. Markus Egert (Furtwangen University) whose microbiome analysis of used kitchen sponges indicated how fast a sponge becomes filled with bacteria. While it needs to be determined whether this can be seen as 'friendly' microbial diversity or a dangerous bulk of pathogens, it is recommended to replace sponges at least once a week.

Closing the morning session, prof. dr. Andrew McBain (University of Manchester) and dr. Bernhard Meyer (Ecolab) shared the view that, based on scientific evidence, we needn't worry about a link between the use of biocides and an increase in resistance to antibiotics. We just need to make sure biocides are used at the right time and place, following the proper use procedures indicated on the label – in other words, targeted hygiene.

In the parallel afternoon sessions, discussions continued on hygiene within four specific sectors: home hygiene, healthcare, the agriculture & food industry and institutional cleaning. In each session participants could listen to many other specialists on hygiene and infection prevention and discuss ways to improve hygiene practices in those sectors. From these sessions another shared, key conclusion could be drawn: the importance of the 'people' part in hygiene practices and protocols.

Resolving public misunderstandings about our microbial world starts with educating our children on hygiene and infection. Hygiene protocols in healthcare and institutional cleaning are often very strong and thorough, but they need the commitment from all staff-members – which experience shows is often lacking. And although the food industry in the Netherlands is well-known for its high hygiene standards, experience with low milk prices has shown that farmers under financial pressure run the risk of no longer being able to maintain those high standards.

In short, the initial goal of the Hygiene Forum in bringing together specialists and stakeholders to discuss hygiene has succeeded. It has shown that industry, scientists and authorities can learn a lot from each other.

For this reason, the Hygiene Forum will continue in future. To provide a platform where industry, scientists, authorities and NGOs meet to exchange ideas and to inspire collaboration in finding solutions to a common issue: the need to put hygiene back on the map again.