How hand hygiene saves lives

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How hand hygiene saves lives

Each of us has an obligation to do our part in protecting ourselves and others from contracting an infectious disease. One way is by practicing hand hygiene. Hand hygiene has been recognized as the best way to stop germs from spreading. This notion that hand washing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection, is no better demonstrated than what happened over 150 years ago in Austria.

Doctor who discovered how hand washing saves lives

An Austrian-Hungarian physician by the name of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, worked in a hospital in Vienna, Austria 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 student’s 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. Because of Dr. Semmelweis’ insight, the deaths on the maternity ward dropped by fivefold.

Surprisingly, hand washing was not readily accepted in Dr. Semmelweis’ era. His pleas to make hand washing a routine practice throughout the hospital were largely met with resistance. It would take another 50 years to pass before the importance of hand washing was a preventative measure would be widely accepted by the medical profession.  Sanitation is now standard and thanks to Dr. Semmelweis’ discovery, thousands of lives have been saved.

Handwashing – why it’s important

Practicing regular, routine hand washing is for everyone from the youngest among us to the oldest.  Germs and bacteria abound in our daily lives which put all of us, no matter where we live what our economic status may be, at risk of contracting a serious illness.

Handwashing is one of the simplest yet often neglected reminders we should always remember to do throughout the day. Handwashing with soap removes germs from hand and helps prevent infections for the following reasons as stated by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

·      People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it. Germs can get into the body through the eyes, nose, and mouth making us sick.

·      Germs from unwashed hands can get into foods and drinks while people prepare or consume them. Germs can multiply in some types of food or drinks, under certain conditions, making people sick.

·      Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, like handrails, table tops, or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands.

·      Removing germs through handwashing helps prevent diarrhea and respiratory infections and may even help prevent skin and eye infections.

When to wash your hands

There are certain things we may do or times when hand washing is especially critical:

·      After using the toilet or changing a baby’s diaper

·      Before, during and after preparing food

·      Between handling raw and cooked or ready-to-eat food

·      Before eating

·      After using a tissue or handkerchief

·      Before and after attending to sick children or other family members

·      After smoking

·      After handling dirt, trash, pesticides, or working in the garden

·      After petting or handling animals

How to wash hands properly

Hand washing may seem straightforward but many may not be thoroughly cleansing their hands to adequately get rid of germs and bacteria. It never hurts to review basic and proper hand hygiene.  The CDC recommends washing 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.

Otherwise, here are important steps to follow for hand hygiene as recommended by the CDC:

·      Wet 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 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