World Hand Hygiene Day this year is on Thursday, May 5, 2016. Good hand hygiene is practiced when one cleans one’s hand with water and soap in order to remove soil, dirt, bacteria, and other microorganisms and prevent transferring these to other people or things that one may touch. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), proper hand washing can reduce the risk of respiratory infections by 16% and diarrheal disease-associated deaths by up to 50%! A large portion of foodborne illnesses are spread via contaminated hands. The prevalence of these illnesses, and other preventable viral illnesses, can be substantially lessened if proper hand washing practices are more widespread.
Every day, but especially on World Hand Hygiene Day, think about everything your hands touch. You touch common household objects like doorknobs, handrails, and your cell phone. You touch your food before eating it, and you may prepare food for others that they will in turn consume. You may touch your eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it! If your hands aren’t washed properly, germs can be transmitted to others or yourself through these means and increase your chances of becoming sick! Smart phones have been found to carry 30,000 bacteria units per swab, and on the average piece of paper money, one can find 26,000 live bacteria. It is no wonder that an estimated 80% of diseases are transmitted simply human touch. Bacteria can survive for up to three hours on your hands, so be sure to properly wash them!
This year, the focus of the World Health Organization (WHO) World Hand Hygiene Day hand washing campaign is medical hand hygiene for health workers. During health care, hands are the main vehicles of germ transmission, and according to the WHO, on a global scale, thousands of people die daily from infections obtained while they were receiving health care. Now, more than ever, it’s important to emphasize the value of proper hand hygiene to avoid transmitting harmful germs, prevent infections that are associated with the health care setting, and save lives!
According to the WHO, health care workers and those who are in healthcare settings should always wash their hands with soap and water after using the restroom and when their hands are visibly dirty or soiled with blood or bodily fluids. If hands aren’t visibly dirty, the recommended way for routine hand hygiene is by rubbing them with an alcohol-based formula. This way has been found to be more effective, faster, and better tolerated by the skin on your hands than the soap and water way.
In order to keep patients and everyone in healthcare settings as safe as possible, in terms of hand hygiene, the WHO is calling all health workers on World Hand Hygiene Day to be especially vigilant about properly observing hand hygiene practices during these five times:
- Before touching a patient (to protect patients from harmful germs that your hands may already potentially be carrying)
- Before a procedure that must be clean/aseptic (to protect the patient from harmful germs entering his or her body, as these types of procedures are commonly invasive)
- After being at risk of bodily fluid exposure (to protect yourself, the health care worker, and the health care environment from harmful patient germs that may be transmitted via bodily fluids such as blood and saliva)
- After touching a patient (to protect yourself, the health care worker, and the health care environment from harmful patient germs that the patient may have been potentially carrying)
- After touching patient surroundings (to protect yourself, the health care worker, and the health care environment from harmful patient germs transmitted from the patient to his or her surroundings)
Proper hand washing practices save lives every day, and clean hands are of utmost important in the healthcare field. Because they work in a setting where there is a high concentration of ill people and many person-to-person contact points, healthcare workers are at a higher risk of transmitting germs, pathogens, and diseases to themselves, between each other, and to patients if they don’t observe proper hand hygiene techniques.
Whether you’re a healthcare worker or not, celebrate World Hand Hygiene Day by taking an extra minute to properly wash your hands and be sure to continue this practice the other 364 days of the year too!