Imagine you saw something disgusting on your hands, such as a bit of poop or blood. You would not hesitate for even a second. You would be at the sink, scrubbing away the yuckiness. It’s gross and could be dangerous – of course you’d want to wash it off immediately. But many dangerous germs are invisible to the eye and can be found everywhere in health care facilities. Regular hand washing in healthcare, by medical staff and patients, is a key element to reducing the risk of infection.
Where do many of these germs live?
On hospital surfaces, including floors, bed rails, door knobs, tray tables, TV remotes and faucets.
What’s the problem?
You can’t see them with the naked eye, but dangerous germs, including life threatening pathogens, can be easily spread to and between patients. Doctors, nurses and other medical staff who don’t wash their hands between patients can easily transfer germs, as can contaminated equipment. Furthermore, patients can get sick from touching contaminated surfaces. For more information, read Germs in Hospitals and Doctor Offices – Watch Out!
How common and dangerous is this?
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), in 2014, over 721,000 patients developed a healthcare acquired infection in an acute care hospital, leading to 75,000 deaths.
Doctors and medical staff are often not washing their hands.
To prevent the spread of germs, proper hand hygiene among medical staff must be practiced. As hard as it is to believe, many doctors and other staff members are not washing their hands regularly. A 2014 study found that less than 1/3 of healthcare workers in an ICU (intensive care unit) always washed their hands. Why aren’t they washing their hands frequently enough? It’s likely a combination of forgetfulness and apathy.
Hand washing makes a difference.
Research reports that there “is now undisputed evidence that strict adherence to hand hygiene reduces the risk of cross-transmission of infections.”
What can patients and families do?
Patients (and families) can have a significant impact on reducing the spread of infection by asking all medical staff to wash their hands, and to regularly wash their own hands as well. Research confirms what one would expect – medical staff hand washing rates increase significantly when they are asked by patients.
Many hospitals now post signs encouraging patients to remind medical staff to wash their hands AND to wash their own hands. Do not be shy about asking medical personnel to wash their hands – your life may depend on it!
What’s the best way to wash your hands in order to kill germs?
For the best protection, wash your hands following these 5 steps recommended by the CDC:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
If you can’t use soap and water, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. However, it’s important to realize that alcohol-based hand sanitizers will not kill all germs, including C. diff.