Does hand washing really matter?

Certainly! Here’s why.

Hand washing (hand hygiene) is one of the most important and effective things we as individuals can do to prevent the spread of germs and infection. It is a simple way to protect yourself and others from getting sick. Hand hygiene is particularly important when it comes to healthcare facilities, where the risk of infection is significant, but it is also essential in our daily lives.

What is Hand Hygiene?

Hand hygiene refers to the cleaning your hands. This can be either using an alcohol-based hand rub or by handwashing with the use of soap and water.

Why is Hand Washing Important?

The hands are the primary mode of transmission for many infectious agents.  These agents include bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Touching a contaminated surface or shaking hands with someone who is sick can transfer these germs to your hands. If you then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes, you can introduce these germs into your body which can potentially cause illness.

Healthcare workers can inadvertently spread germs from one patient to another if they don’t practice good hand hygiene. This may lead to the transmission of healthcare-associated infections, which can be serious and sometimes life-threatening.

How to Perform Hand Hygiene

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the following steps for handwashing:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water.
  2. Apply soap and rub your hands together to create a lather. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

If you don’t have access to soap and water, an alcohol-based hand rub can be used instead. Make sure it contains at least 60% alcohol and rub it all over your hands including under your fingernails and up to your wrists until they are dry.

When to Perform Hand Hygiene

Hand hygiene should be performed at the following times:

  • Before and after preparing food
  • Before eating
  • After using the bathroom
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling garbage
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound

How to learn more about Infection Control

Complete a short course Infection Control in a Health Setting where you will complete the unit HLTINF006 – Apply basic principles and practices of infection prevention and control  for a more generalised course. It will take between 4 to 8 weeks to complete.

Hand hygiene is a simple but effective way to prevent the spread of germs and infections. By washing your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub, you can protect yourself and others from getting sick. Make sure to perform hand hygiene at the appropriate times and follow the WHO’s recommended steps for handwashing.

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