Officials at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, said the most common healthcare-associated infections include urinary tract, surgical site infections, pneumonia and infections of the bloodstream.
"More than half of these infections could be prevented by caregivers properly cleaning their hands at key moments in patient care," WHO officials said in a statement released at U.N. headquarters in New York.
A survey by WHO and the University of Geneva Hospital found patient participation is considered a useful strategy for improving hand hygiene and creating a positive patient safety climate.
Liam Donaldson, the U.N. envoy for patient safety, said patients and their family members can participate by asking health workers who are about to touch them to clean their hands and thanking them when they do, and asking for information about any existing initiatives that involve patients at the health facility.
The WHO recommends people wash their hands during five key moments: before touching a patient, before cleaning and aseptic procedures, after contact with body fluids, after touching a patient and after touching patient surroundings.
Of every 100 hospitalized patients, at least seven in developed and 10 in developing countries will acquire a healthcare-associated infection, but those in intensive care the number is 30 per 100, WHO officials said.