What is Hand hygiene? Simply put, hand hygiene is washing your hands. Hand Hygiene plays a major part in reducing and eliminating the spread of germs and infections from person-to-person. It also helps reduce the spread of illnesses, including colds, flu and other upper respiratory diseases.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following steps to obtain and maintain proper hand hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and clean running water for 20 seconds. However, if soap and clean water are not available, use an alcohol-based product to clean your hands. Alcohol-based hand rubs significantly reduce the number of germs on skin and are fast acting.
- 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 hands together to make a lather, and scrub all surfaces
- Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds. If you need a “timer”, imagine singing the Happy Birthday song twice to yourself
- Rinse hands well under running water.
- Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer
- If possible, use the paper towel to turn off the faucet
- Remember: If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based gel to clean hands. When using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:
- Apply product to the palm of one hand
- Rub hands together
- Rub the product over all surfaces of hands and fingers until hands are dry
Medical history books tell the story of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, an Austrian-Hungarian physician, who first demonstrated over 150 years ago that hand hygiene can prevent the spread of disease. Hand hygiene as a practice includes performing hand washing, antiseptic hand wash or alcohol-based hand rub.
Dr Semmelweis worked in a hospital in Vienna where pregnant mothers were dying at such an alarming rate that they begged to be sent home. Most of those dying had been treated by student physicians who had worked on corpses during an anatomy class before beginning their rounds in the maternity ward. Because the students did not wash their hands effectively between touching the dead and the living, bacteria from the corpses were regularly transmitted to the mothers via the students’ hands. The result was a death rate five times higher for mothers who delivered in one clinic of the hospital than for mothers who delivered at another clinic not attended by the student physicians. In an in- house experiment, Dr Semmelweis insisted that his students wash their hands before treating the mothers. Then deaths on the maternity ward fell fivefold.
Unquestioned today as the most important tool in the healthcare worker’s arsenal for preventing infection, hand washing was not readily accepted in Dr Semmelweis’ era. Indeed, his pleas to make hand washing a routine practice throughout the hospital were largely met with resistance. Another 50 years would pass before the importance of hand washing as a preventive measure would be widely accepted by the medical profession. Sanitation is now a standard, and thousands of lives have been saved because of Dr. Semmelweis’ discovery.
In an effort to protect our personal health and the health of those touched by our hands, let’s put our hand together for hand hygiene. Through proper hand hygiene we can applaud the work completed by Dr Semmelweis and his efforts to save lives.