May 1st, 2015                                               

Back to basics: Hand hygiene more important now
than ever

May 5th is the official day of the World Health Organization’s SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands campaign.

Before you shake someone’s hand, you may want to think twice. Are you sure that that person’s hands are clean? Or that your hands are clean? Have you been recently touching surfaces that may contain high levels of bacteria? (Probably) How often do people really wash their hands after going to the bathroom? If you think these are questions only for the over paranoid to contemplate, think again. If you work in a hospital or a nursing home, or spend a good amount of time there, these questions are even all the more prevalent. The fact remains that at some point, each and every one of us will visit a hospital at least once. If a hospital does not have some type of quality hand hygiene program in place, the chances of you actually getting sick just from visiting a hospital increase significantly.

The reality is that hand hygiene has always been an issue. Sometimes we forget that one of the simplest, most fundamental and important acts is the act of washing ones hands. Even if you work in an office and not a hospital, your keyboard and mouse are most definitely contaminated with some sort of pathogenic bacteria[1]. In fact, they are by far the dirtiest parts of any office, making them a potential source of transmission of pathogenic organisms which lead to diseases.

How frequently do we self-apply hand sanitizer? Do we really think about how many contaminated things we touch throughout the day? What about a simple habit like face touching? Have you ever noticed how many times a day you touch your face? On a good day, you probably touch your face more than 23 times per hour. That was the amount of times a group of medical students touched their faces on average during a behavioral observation[2]. Your mouth, nose, and eyes are considered mucous membranes which are usually heavily colonized with bacteria [3].

It recently came to light in two Danish studies[4] that a disturbingly high number of people do not wash their hands after using the toilet. One study, performed in a hospital, found that only 30% of hospital patients actually washed their hands after having used the bathroom. Even worse, more than a third of hospital workers didn’t what their hands after visiting the toilet. Only about 65.5% actually did wash their hands.

If you think about the importance of thorough hand washing you would think the practice had been around for millennia. However, it was a mere 150 years ago that Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis from Austria, made the observation that doctors not washing their hands had a direct correlation to hospital deaths from childbed fever. He then recommended that the doctors wash their hands. Semmelweis was ridiculed for his observation and was forcibly committed to a mental asylum for his strong personal conviction. He subsequently died just two weeks after being committed, possibly from being beaten by hospital personnel.

Semmelweis dared to challenge the status quo of the medical industry at the time and was met with a strong negative reaction. That reaction has since been coined “The Semmelweis Reflex” and is still prevalent in today’s healthcare industry. However, thanks to Semmelweis’ audacity, we now know about germs and of course the importance of hand washing. But we should never forget the Semmelweis story. If people had listened to him at the time, many lives could have been saved by simply washing hands. Even now, surveys have been conducted which indicate that there is still a need to direct education toward hand hygiene[5]. Studies have found that residents of care facilities are aware of the importance of hand hygiene, but that certain barriers such as inaccessibility to products impede this process.

Today more than ever, hand hygiene is of vital importance. With outbreaks such as Ebola among others, the awareness level of clean hands should be higher than it was in the past. This is why the World Health Organization had launched back in 2009 it SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands campaign as part of its 10 year strong “Clean Care is Safer Care” program.  So on May 5th, (yes we know it’s also “Cinco de Mayo”) you can also be part of raising awareness on the importance of hand washing.

Please share this article with your friends on social media. You too can save lives by cleaning your hands and informing others the importance of doing so. 






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