Why is Hand Hygiene So Important?

November 15, 2018

Infectious diseases continue to be a health challenge and economic burden within our communities. The impact of poor hand hygiene habits is linked to increased occurrences of illness, absences, and their associated costs. Studies demonstrate that poor hand hygiene practices can contribute to an increase in community-based infections including gastrointestinal, skin and respiratory infections (Scott, 2013). A renewed commitment to “shared responsibility” in our homes, work places, and classrooms may be one of our most important infection prevention strategies, therefore, hand hygiene at home, school and within our communities plays an essential role in helping to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

Handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from getting sick. Chance are that you have been washing your own hands for quite sometime now.  What can be so hard about washing our hands, all one needs is some soap and water, right?  Well, there is a bit more to handwashing…

The single most important thing you can do to prevent getting sick and stop the spread of illness and disease-carrying germs, is to wash your hands frequently.  By washing your hands, you wash away the germs that you may have picked up from someone else or from a contaminated surface. One of the most common ways to catch a cold or the flu is from rubbing your nose and eyes with your hands after they were contaminated by a cold/flu virus.  More frequent and correct handwashing techniques help to reduce the spread of these viruses and germs.

Since germs are invisible to the naked eye, hands should be washed frequently.  Per the CDC, there are a few especially important times to wash your hands:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After touching garbage (CDC, 2018).

 

Here’s How to properly wash your hands, follow these simple steps:

  • First, wet your hands with warm or cold water and apply soap.
  • Next, rub your hands together vigorously to create a lather. Scrub all surfaces of your hands, including the back of your hands, your wrists, and between your fingers. Also clean under your fingernails to help control germs. Keep fingernails trimmed and short.
  • Continue for at least 20 seconds or about the length of a little tune (for example: sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice). It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that helps dislodge and remove germs.
  • Rinse your hands well and dry them with a clean paper towel, clean towel, or air dryer.
  • If possible, use the paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door (CDC, 2018).

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations, but if soap and water are not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

The CDC has a few facts to remember about alcohol-based hand sanitizers and how to use them properly:

  • Sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations.
  • Sanitizers do not get rid of all types of germs.
  • Hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.
  • Hand sanitizers might not remove harmful chemicals from hands like pesticides and heavy metals.
  • Be cautious when using hand sanitizers around children. Swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning if more than a couple mouthfuls are swallowed.

How to Use Hand Sanitizer

  • Apply the gel to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount).
  • Rub your hands together.
  • Rub the gel over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry (CDC, 2018).

 

Please be aware that this information is to supplement any care suggested or given by your healthcare provider.  It is not intended to replace or be a substitute for professional medical advice.  Call your healthcare provider if you think you have a medical problem or emergency.

 

 

References

CDC (2018). When and how to wash your hands. Retrieved November 9, 2018 from http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing.html

Scott, E. (2013). Community-based infections and the potential role of common touch surfaces as vectors for the transmission of infectious agents in home and community settings.  American Journal of Infection Control. Retrieved November 07, 2018 from http://www.ajicjournal.org

 

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