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Infection Control Specialists the Importance of Hand Washing

In Brief

  • Hand washing is the number-one way to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Always wash your hands after preparing food, using the bathroom, coughing or sneezing into your hands, treating wounds, and touching contaminated objects.
  • To wash your hands, wet your hands with warm water and then apply soap to all hand surfaces. Continue rubbing hands for 15-20 seconds. Rinse and dry your hands. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the exit door.
  • If soap and clean water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Hand washing is particularly important in healthcare settings. Hand washing education is ongoing at CKHS.

You may not realize it, but every hand, hand rail, door knob, light switch or counter top you touch can place dangerous germs on your hands. These germs can attach to everything you touch, including your mouth, face and food. Germs can cause infections, some of which may be very resistant and harder to treat.

Frequent hand washing is the number-one way to avoid getting sick and spreading illness. While hand washing is a simple task that only requires soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, many people do not do this simple task or do not do it properly. Therefore, the effectiveness of this process is drastically reduced or even eliminated.

Always wash your hands after preparing food, especially raw meat or poultry, and before eating. Also, wash your hands after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, touching an animal, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing into your hands and treating wounds. Of course, you should also wash your hands whenever they look dirty or after handling something that could be contaminated — such as garbage.

Dee Porri, Infection Prevention and Control coordinator at Taylor Hospital, says, “Hand washing is especially important in the healthcare setting. Remember good hand hygiene when you are visiting friends or family in a hospital or nursing home setting. Those folks are at greater risk to become ill from the bacteria that may be on your hands. Please wash your hands when you arrive and when you leave.”

Effective Hand Washing

Many people do not know how to effectively wash their hands. When washing hands with soap and water, wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available. Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces. Continue rubbing hands for 15-20 seconds. Not washing your hands long enough is the most frequent mistake people make. Need a way to time yourself? The Mayo Clinic recommends singing “Happy Birthday” twice in your head. Rinse hands well under running water. Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the exit door.

If soap and clean water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers significantly reduce the number of germs on skin and are fast-acting. When using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, apply the product to the palm of one hand. Rub your hands together, covering all surfaces of hands and fingers until your hands are dry.

Hand washing is particularly vital for children. Schools and day care centers are two of the most common places for germs, as is any crowded environment. The best way to teach anything to young children is by making it fun and by teaching and modeling what to do through your own behavior. Parents and teachers should have a hand washing area set up for comfort and provide a child-safe stool or low wash basin. Create an appealing environment through kid-friendly themes like Sponge Bob or the Little Mermaid. Kids like fun soaps, such as foam. You can also have the child sing a fun song while washing to help mark the time and make a game out of each step.

Education and Monitoring 

Hand washing education is ongoing throughout the Crozer-Keystone Health System (CKHS). Christine Young, Infection Control coordinator at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, says, “I believe that there is a direct correlation between compliance to hand hygiene and transmission of resistant organisms to patients via the hands of healthcare workers. At CKHS, we continue to stress the importance of hand hygiene as a key component of patient safety.”

Donna Walz, Infection Prevention and Control coordinator at Delaware County Memorial Hospital, says, “Keeping hand hygiene in the forefront allows our employees to be fastidious in their practices and therefore reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections.” One of The Joint Commission’s 2010 National Patient Safety Goals is to reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections.   

Hand hygiene audits are performed monthly throughout CKHS. Healthcare providers are monitored whether they wash their hands before entering and after leaving patient rooms. Percentages of compliance are tallied and this information is provided to various meetings and councils in the hospital.

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