It's OK to Ask: Hand Hygiene as a Frontline Defense Against Infection

July 7, 2017

Wash your hands.  How many times has a person heard that often-repeated refrain over a lifetime?  Children are encouraged to wash hands after playing outside, before eating, after using the restroom, and any one of a number of other occasions.  For good reason, adults are also reminded how important this simple task is when preparing meals, taking public transportation, or shopping at busy stores.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 80 percent of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch.  The simplest, most effective way that society can combat the spread of germs is by hand washing.

It's ok to ask

Clean hands are a great frontline defense against the spread of germs and serious infections.  Proper hand hygiene is not only top of mind at Colordo Plains Medical Center, but it is a top priority for hospital staff.  Proper hand hygiene in a healthcare setting should be top of mind for both patients and those visiting their room as well according to Jackie Danielsen, RN, Infection Control and Employee Health nurse at CPMC.  "Germs that can lead to serious infection can hitch a ride on the most unassuming of visitors, including the doctor and other healthcare workers, family, friends, your minister - really anyone who visits you while you are receiving care."

Visitors, including healthcare workers, should make it their priority to uphold good hand hygiene, making sure their hands are clean when they enter a room to visit a patient.  Patients should feel that it is okay to ask every single person who visits their room to clean his or her hands for their own protection. 

Soap and water vs. hand sanitizer

In today's market consumers are inundated with a variety of soaps and hand sanitizers, and are usually presented with both options in the healthcare setting.  Both are effective in killing or removing germs on hands, but it's important to know not only when it's appropriate to wash hands with soap and water or when to use hand sanitizer, but the appropriate way to do each maintains Danielson.

Simply put, if hands look dirty, food is going to be consumed, or if the restroom was used, an indivdiual should wash hands with soap and water.  To hand wash appropriately, wet hands, apply soap, and rub hands together to make a good lather applying friction for at least 15 seconds.  Scrub easy-to-forget areas like fingertips, nails, thumbs, and between fingers.

Alcohol-based sanitizers are appropriate to use in other situations when hands don't look dirty.  When apply hand sanitizer, it's important to cover every part of the hands, similar to washing with soap and water.  Continue to rub hands togehter until they are dry.

Keeping hands clean is not only an effective defense against the spread of serious infection, it's a very simple and easy thing to do that can make a big difference, especially in the healthcare setting where patients are at risk for infection.  In fact, research shows that  improving hand hygiene can lead to significant reductions in healthcare-associated infections by up to 50 percent.

When visiting a patient in the hospital, remember that it is important  to clean hands for the patient's protection.  Patients shouldn't be afraid to ask visitors to clean their hands, either.  Handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs whether at the hospital or in public.  For questions regarding infection control matters, feel free to contact Danielsen at Colorado Plains Medical Center at 542-3362.