Clean Hands Count on World Hand Hygiene Day

Richard Gawel

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How well do you scrub up when you see your patients? The World Health Organization wants you to know as it celebrates World Hand Hygiene Day on Thursday, May 5. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will join in emphasizing the importance of this simple procedure with its Clean Hands Count campaign.

“Patients depend on their medical team to help them get well, and the first step is making sure healthcare professionals aren’t exposing them to new infections,” said CDC director Tom Frieden, MD. “Clean hands really do count and in some cases can be a matter of life and death.”

On average, the CDC reports, healthcare providers clean their hands less than half the times that they should. These lapses contribute to the spread of healthcare-associated infections that affect one in every 25 hospital patients every day. Healthcare providers can improve awareness of hand hygiene with free CDC promotional materials.

Practitioners can distribute brochures and factsheets during staff meetings and training. They also can display posters for providers in staff lounges and for patients in waiting rooms. Materials explaining hand hygiene can be included in patient admission packets. And, organizations can link to campaign infographics on their digital platforms like social media and email newsletters.

Furthermore, the CDC is encouraging healthcare providers to participate in the #CleanHandsCount campaign by taking a photo and letting social media know who their clean hands count for. Participants can sign up at cdc.gov/handhygiene.

From 2:00 to 3:00 pm et, the CDC will be tweeting live from @CDCgov and @CDC_NCEZID. The online chat will cover the importance of hand hygiene and best practices, truths about hand hygiene, and how patients can ask for clean hands, in addition to a Q&A session. Participants should use #CleanHandsCount for the chat.

Improved awareness also may help debunk hand hygiene myths. For instance, some people think alcohol-based hand sanitizer contributes to antibiotic resistance or that it’s more damaging to hands than using soap and water. The CDC notes that these sanitizers kill germs differently from antibiotics so they do not lead to resistance. They also cause less, not more, skin irritation than frequent use of soap and water.

Furthermore, the CDC is encouraging patients to ask their physicians to clean their hands if they don’t see them do so before providing care.

“We know that patients can feel hesitant to speak up, but they are important members of the healthcare team and should expect clean hands from providers,” said Arjun Srinivasan, MD, the CDC’s associate director for healthcare-associated infection prevention programs. “We know that healthcare providers want the best for their patients, so we want to remind them that the simple step of cleaning their hands protects their patients.”

The CDC also reports that about 722,000 healthcare-associated infections occur in US hospitals each year, and about 75,000 of these patients die during their hospital stays. Providers, then, should be diligent in cleaning their hands before and after every patient contact, which could mean as many as 100 times per 12-hour shift.

Wearing gloves, the CDC adds, is not a substitute for hand hygiene. Dirty gloves can soil hands, so hands should be washed once gloves are removed. Also, physicians should change their gloves if they are damaged, if they are moving from a contaminated body site to a clean one, or if they look dirty or have blood or bodily fluids on them after completing a task.

When using hand sanitizer, which is more effective than soap and water, physicians should put the product on and rub their hands together, covering all surfaces until the hands feel dry. This should take approximately 20 seconds. Often, physicians miss their fingertips, between their fingers, and their thumbs, so pay particular attention to these areas.

Meanwhile, the Faculty of General Practice (UK) and Association of Clinical Oral Microbiologists are joining in the campaign by asking dentists to join in their social media “Thunderclap” on May 5 by setting up their social media to automatically post the message “hand hygiene supports safe dental care” at 8:oo pm gmt.

Healthcare-acquired infections affect more than 4 million patients each year in Europe, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and cost around 7 billion Euro (about $8 billion) in additional healthcare and direct financial losses. They also add to the problem of antimicrobial resistance by increasing the number of antibiotic prescriptions.

“Dental patients are in your hands, so always check what’s on your hands,” said Dr. Mick Horton, dean of the Faculty of General Practice (UK). “Don’t spread infections, but do spread the word.”

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