Washing Hands

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo; what does this date make you think about? Many people will think about their favorite Mexican food or beverage. History tells us that May 5th is set aside to commemorate the Mexican Army’s unlikely victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1062. Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day as many believe.

Cinco de Mayo has special significance this year: May 5th is World Hand Hygiene Day! The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared May 5th as World Hand Hygiene Day to encourage patients and family members to join healthcare professionals in the practice of appropriate hand hygiene. According to the WHO, hundreds of millions of patients are affected by healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) every year. More than half of these infections could be prevented if caregivers properly cleaned their hands at key moments in patient care. Everyone has a role in encouraging each other to clean their hands.

Imagine an entire day across the globe to celebrate and remember the importance of hand hygiene. If only we were celebrating the incredible job that we as a species do at effective and timely hand hygiene. Recent data shows that on average, healthcare providers clean their hands less than half the times that they should. Alas, it appears that it is our failure to clean our hands that leads to this observation of World Hand Hygiene Day.

Too often, we only consider the importance of healthcare workers cleaning their hands at the appropriate time to prevent the spread of HAIs. The Joint Commission has stated that hand hygiene is the most important intervention for preventing HAIs. We know one out of every twenty hospitalized patients has an HAI; appropriate hand washing is the solution we somehow cannot succeed at. Hand washing in healthcare is a life-saving activity, but it is not the only place that hand washing is crucial. All of us need to clean our hands at the appropriate times, not only to protect ourselves but to protect our loved ones and society as well.

If you work in healthcare, you know there are five moments (according to the WHO) that you need to wash your hands:

  • Before patient contact
  • Before aseptic tasks
  • After body fluid exposure risk
  • After patient contact
  • After contact with patient surroundings

If you are a patient or have a loved one in the hospital or other healthcare facility, there are key times for you to wash your hands as well. These moments are not as widely broadcast but are essential in the prevention of HAIs. The CDC list patient/family hand hygiene moments as:

  • After using the restroom (use soap and water)
  • Before eating (use soap and water)
  • After touching bedrails, bedside tables, remote controls, or phone
  • Before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • After touching doorknobs
  • After blowing your nose or sneezing
  • Before and after changing bandages

Hand washing, also known as hand hygiene, has two separate methods. First, washing your hands with soap and water; second is the use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. If the hand sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are more effective and less drying to your hands than using soap and water. This is true except after using the bathroom, times when your hands are visibly soiled, or when caring for a patient with C. difficile. At these times, soap and water is the best option because the C. difficile spores are not removed by alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

When completing hand hygiene with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers, be sure to clean your fingertips, thumbs and between your fingers. Hand sanitizer should be used in a quantity to keep your hands wet for 20 seconds. Hand washing should include take at least 20 seconds as well, with 15 seconds spent rubbing hands together.

Whether you are a healthcare provider or a healthcare consumer, you can impact HAIs through appropriate hand washing. It is time to wash out HAIs and improve all our lives.

Happy World Handwashing Day!!!!