Each year on May 5th the world comes together to celebrate World Hand Hygiene Day. Designated by the World Health Assembly, World Hand Hygiene Day encourages patients and families to join healthcare providers in preventing the spread of illness and disease by practicing good hand hygiene.
This year’s World Hand Hygiene Day is dedicated to the thousands of nurses and midwives who devote their lives to caring for you and your family. Join this global effort by practicing good hand hygiene and educating others on the importance of clean hands.
Keeping Clean While under Care
When you seek out medical care, you don’t expect to get sicker. Unfortunately, 1 in 25 hospital patients ends up with a healthcare-associated infection (HAI). HAIs are infections acquired while receiving treatment for another condition. Advocating for good hand hygiene is one of the ways you can lower your risk of contracting a HAI.
Your healthcare providers should be cleaning their hands between patients, but sometimes this simple step is overlooked. It’s okay to ask your nurse or doctor to wash their hands when they come into the room or before performing a procedure. You can ask your visitors to wash their hands as well.
Protect yourself by washing your hands after touching bed rails, doorknobs, remote controls, or before touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and before eating.
Protect Yourself at Home and On-the-Go
Germs are everywhere, so good hand hygiene shouldn’t stop when you leave the doctor’s office. It’s important to know when and how to wash your hands properly to keep you and your family germ-free.
When to Wash Your Hands
Many of us know we should wash our hands after using the toilet, but you might overlook other key times to wash, such as:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating
- Before and after taking care of someone at home who is ill
- Before and after tending a cut or wound
- After changing diapers or helping a child who has used the toilet to clean up
- After sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose
- After touching an animal or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
This list isn’t exhaustive. It’s also a good idea to wash your hands after visiting public places with shared surfaces, such as the bank, grocery store, gas station, or public playground. As a general rule, if you feel you need to wash your hands – do it.
Practice Proper Handwashing Technique
Sadly, a large portion of Americans don’t wash their hands correctly, if at all. A study in the Journal of Environmental Health found that only 66.9% of people wash their hands with soap and only 5% wash for the appropriate amount of time. Practice correct handwashing technique by following the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) five steps for proper handwashing:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water. Then turn off the faucet and apply soap.
- Lather your hands well with soap. Make sure to rub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Not sure how long 20 seconds is? Sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
- Rinse your hands well under running water.
- Dry your hands with a clean towel if available, or air dry them.
Build Healthy Hand Washing Habits with Your Kids
While you may not think twice about how to wash your hands, your children must be taught how to keep their hands clean. Start by teaching them the five steps to handwashing. Try to make it fun by turning handwashing into a game or making up a handwashing song.
As with learning any new skill, handwashing requires practice. Your child may need frequent reminders of when and how to wash their hands.
Children are more perceptive than you may think. Set a healthy example for your kids to follow by practicing good hand hygiene.
Substitute with Hand Sanitizer
Washing your hands is the best way to prevent the spread of illness, but sometimes soap and water aren’t readily available. In such a case, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing anywhere from 60-80% alcohol. You can check the alcohol content by reading the product label.
Although sanitizers are a quick and easy way to clean your hands, they’re no substitute for soap and water. Hand sanitizer doesn’t kill all germs, nor is it as effective when there is visible dirt or harmful chemicals on your hands. As an added precaution, it’s best to wash your hands with soap and water as soon as it is available.
Debunking Popular Hand Hygiene Myths
There are several myths regarding best hand hygiene practices. Here are just a few of the most common misconceptions:
1. Warmer Water Kills More Germs
Contrary to popular belief, warmer water is not more effective at killing germs compared to cooler water. In fact, recent studies have shown that varying water temperatures have no effect on bacterial reduction, and individuals who washed their hands with warmer water were more likely to contract dermatitis. So, when it comes to washing your hands, choose whatever temperature you are most comfortable with – just be sure you use soap.
2. Antibacterial Soap Kills More Germs
Antibacterial soaps contain certain chemicals not found in regular soaps. Many consumers believe these added chemicals contain extra germ-fighting powers, but this isn’t the case. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is no proof that antibacterial soaps are better at preventing infection compared to regular soaps.
3. Air Dryers Are More Sanitary Compared to Paper Towels
According to an article published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, some air dryers disperse 60 times more bacteria into the air compared to warm air dryers, and 1,300 times more than paper towels.
Air dryers create air flows that disperse germs throughout the room which can be easily inhaled. There is even some evidence of bacteria originating from the dryers themselves.
Although general consensus says paper towels are more hygienic, if an air dryer is your only option – take it. Bacteria has a lower chance of survival on dry surfaces compared to wet ones. So, leaving a bathroom with wet hands is probably worse than using an air dryer.
Final Thoughts from USHEALTH Group
Hand washing is the easiest way to prevent the spread of illness and disease. This World Hand Hygiene Day, help healthcare workers in the fight against infections by practicing good hand hygiene and educating others on its importance.