There may be such as thing as style over function in many areas of our lives (super high heels, trendy uncomfortable furniture), but in the area of disease transmission and zoonotic diseases, hygiene in veterinary clinics needs to maintain function over style.

In his Worms & Germs Blog, The University of Guelph’s Scott Weese, DVM, DVSc, Dipl. ACVIM, criticizes the advice of veterinary clinic designers that gave advice in the latest edition of the American Animal Hospital Association’s Trends magazine.

What style flaw was so egregious that someone would criticize it? The advice to remove hand-washing sinks from the exam room in new facilities and instead replace them with hand sanitizers.

Weese says, “Hand sanitizers are great and should be used as much as possible, but that doesn't mean handwashing is obsolete. Some pathogens we deal with are resistant to alcohol, such as parvovirus, Clostridium spores and ringworm. We need to wash hands when these bugs might be present. Hand sanitizers also don't help if you have chunks of pus, blood or feces on your hands. If there's no sink in the exam room, handwashing usually won't be done when it's supposed to be.”

One only has to look at the recent cases of E. coli and other pathogens that have sickened children and adults at petting zoos to understand how easily pathogens can spread (even when hand sanitizers are present).

No one is saying Fido or Princess is likely to spread those in an exam room (unless they have been romping out in the cow pen), but especially in a mixed practice where a veterinarian, technician or another assistant might have handled a sick calf in the livestock facility and then pops in to give Fluffy her rabies shot and shakes the hand of the pet owner, some pathogens could get transferred if handwashing is not done.

Sinks are visual reminders and important in infection control – when they are used.

Weese says infection control isn't rocket science. “Handwashing is important and under-used. We need sinks in exam rooms. Common sense needs to be more common.”

Read Weese’s commentary, “Dear vet clinic design 'experts': pet owners aren't stupid” here.