A refresher on effective hand hygiene

At Bug Control we talk about effective hand hygiene a lot, and for a good reason! If the COVID-19 pandemic has had any positive outcomes, it is shedding light on this simple yet often-neglected solution to preventing the spread of not only COVID-19, but other infectious diseases.

Although we have gone past May 5 and World Hand Hygiene Day, today (October 15) is Global Handwashing Day. This is another great opportunity for a reminder that it is never too soon to revisit effective hand hygiene.

The history of hand hygiene

In the early 19th century Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician, provided the first evidence that hand decontamination could markedly reduce incidence of puerperal fever and maternal mortality. Despite obvious evidence that his theory was correct, Semmelweis was forced to constantly prove and defend the importance of hand hygiene. Eventually he was driven to a nervous breakdown and ended up in a mental asylum. I am sure that many of us who have argued with people in recent times about certain issues have some insight into what he must have gone through. So even today we must consistently remind and train people in understanding the importance of hand hygiene.

Why effective hand hygiene is so important

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control: “Eighty percent of common infections are spread by hands.” Germs can also survive for up to three hours on your hands. That is why hand hygiene is now regarded as one of the most important of infection control activities. But it is not just washing your hands that is important, but how you do it (effectiveness) and how often (frequency).

This brings me to the point that I make when doing hand hygiene training; it’s not the product you use but the method/technique you use. The friction from rubbing the hand hygiene product on your hands: that is what removes the micro-organisms from your hands!

Tales from the field

Some time back I was undertaking an environmental IPC audit in an aged care facility. A nurse exited a resident’s room, and quite rightly used the hand sanitiser outside the resident’s room. After a couple of cursory rubs of her hands, she then proceeded to wipe the rest of the product on her trousers! I watched in astonishment; in all the years I have been nursing I have never seen this!

Of course, I couldn’t let it go! I had to ask the nurse, “Have you carried out appropriate hand hygiene after coming out of the residents room?” She smiled and “Yes, I used the hand sanitiser outside the resident’s room." I said “I observed you using the hand sanitiser, a couple of hand rubs, then you wiped the rest on your trousers! All you have done is re-contaminate your hands by wiping them on your contaminated trousers.” She had the grace to look embarrassed and apologised, to which I said, “You don’t have to apologise to me, it’s your residents you should apologise to. And you are putting yourself and your colleagues at risk as well.” We had a brief chat about how hand hygiene should be carried out, and the nurse was then able to show me how to correctly perform it.

ABHR or soap and water?

If your hands are not visibly dirty, you can use either ABHR or soap and water when performing hand hygiene. It is the method that is important. Whatever hand hygiene product you are using, rub your hands together and clean every surface, from between the fingers and under your nails, to your palms and back of your hands. This activity should be carried out for about 20 seconds.

Drying your hands

Now, it’s not just about the washing process, it is also about the drying. When using ABHR, perform the process of hand rubbing until your hands are completely dry. Don’t just wave your hands around to make it evaporate sooner!

When using soap and water, dry your hands completely with paper towel. This is because your hands spread germs more easily when they are damp than when they are dry. You can also read our blog post on the most hygienic way to dry your hands.

So, good hand hygiene is not just about through washing, it includes also thoroughly drying your hands. Now combine that with doing it at the appropriate times, using the appropriate product/s and the correct technique, and you’re rracticing at effective hand hygiene.

Infection control is about vigilance as well as effective practice. When was the last time you audited your hand hygiene, or your environment cleaning? Click here for a free IPC self-audit checklist, as well as some tips on how to use it.

Bug Control have over 25 years in infection prevention across Australia and New Zealand. If you need help, contact us now to see how we can help reduce infections in your facility.