Keeping your hands clean is very important wherever you are: at home, at school, at work, and in the healthcare setting.
Hand hygiene is one of the most important things we can do to prevent infection and illness, including colds, flu and even more serious infections such as MRSA. Hand hygiene includes washing hands with soap and water, as well as using alcohol based hand sanitizers.
Confused as to when you should use soap and water and when you can use alcohol based hand sanitizer? Soap and water should be used when your hands are visibly dirty, after using the bathroom and before you eat or prepare food. To be sure you are washing your hands properly with soap and water, wet your hands first and then apply about a nickel-to quarter-sized amount of soap to your hands. Rub your hands together until the soap forms a lather. Be sure to cover all areas of your hands including back of your hands, in between fingers, area around and under fingernails, around thumbs and wrists. Continue rubbing for 20 seconds. You don’t need to use a timer to judge the 20 seconds; just sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself twice. Rinse your hands thoroughly with running water; dry with paper towel if possible, and then use the paper towel to turn off water.
Alcohol based hand gel sanitizers can be used in place of soap and water as long as your hands do not look dirty. Apply a palmful of the hand sanitizer on your hands, rub hands together, covering all areas of your hands and fingers as mentioned above. Continue rubbing until your hands are dry. This should take about 15 seconds.
Hand hygiene should always be done before preparing or eating food; before touching your face; before and after changing wound dressings or bandages; after using the bathroom; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; and after touching hospital surfaces such as the bedside table, siderails, doorknobs, remote controls, or the phone. If you are a patient in the hospital, your healthcare providers should be practicing hand hygiene every time they enter your room, before putting gloves on and after removing them. Your relatives and visitors should also practice good hand hygiene when they enter your room, especially if they will be touching you, and when leaving.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), hospitalized patients get almost two million infections each year in the United States, which can lead to longer hospital stays. Here at HHH, we empower our patients to ask their healthcare worker if they washed their hands. Upon discharge, we ask them to complete a short questionnaire letting us know how we did. Remember, washing hands correctly and frequently will help you stay healthy and well.
Patti Fisher RN BSN
Infection Control Coordinator