Friday, February 22, 2008

The Power of Hand Hygiene

We often underestimate the power of hand hygiene as it relates to preventing illnesses. It is well-documented that the most important measure for preventing the spread of pathogens is effective handwashing.

Improved adherence to hand hygiene has been shown to terminate outbreaks in healthcare facilities, to reduce transmission of antimicrobial resistant organisms and reduce the spread of overall infections. Many commonly seen infections are spread from contaminated hands, such as the flu and food-borne illnesses.

Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. It is best to wash your hands with soap and clean running water for 20 seconds. However, if soap and clean water are not available, use of an alcohol-based product to clean your hands is acceptable. Alcohol-based handrubs significantly reduce the number of germs on skin and are fast acting.

When using an alcohol-based hand rub remember to cover over all surfaces of hands and fingers. Handrubs should also be allowed to dry on your hands and not be wiped off.

When should you wash with soap and water?
· Before and after preparing food. This is especially important when handling any raw meats.
· Before eating food.
· After going to the bathroom.
· After changing diapers or cleaning a child who has gone to the bathroom.
· Before and after tending to someone who is sick.
· After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
· After handling an animal or animal waste.
· After handling garbage.
· Before and after treating a cut or wound.

Remember that the very best way to prevent yourself from getting sick or spreading illnesses to others is through handwashing. For more information about handwashing, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.

--Bonnie Hannon
Manager, Martin Memorial Hospital South Infection Control

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