It’s OK to Ask: How Hand Hygiene Fights Infection

By: Amy Kilroy, MPH, CIC, Infection Preventionist, UP Health System – Marquette

“Wash your hands.” How many times have we heard that in our lives? Since we were children, we’ve been asked to wash our hands after playing outside, before eating, and after using the restroom time and time again.

It’s not without good reason. The experts at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) states when contagious illnesses spread, four out of five times it is from unclean hands. The easiest and most effective way that we can fight the spread of germs is to do same thing you’ve been hearing your whole life – clean your hands.

Hand washing and using hand sanitizer, or “hand hygiene,” is a top priority as we mark May 5 of this year as World Hand Hygiene Day. Perhaps no place to be sure you have clean hands is more important than inside the walls of healthcare settings. Germs that can lead to serious infection can catch a ride on anyone – doctors, nurses, clerks, visiting family, and friends – anyone who touches a patient.

It’s OK to ask!

Healthcare workers and visitors should always make sure their hands are clean before they touch a patient, the patient’s belongings, or the patient’s surroundings. Patients should know is okay to ask every single person who visits their room to clean their hands. “Have you cleaned your hands for my safety?” is a question we fully support at Upper Peninsula Health System Marquette. Healthcare workers are also empowered to speak up on behalf of our patients if they didn’t get a chance to see someone wash his or her hands.

Soap and water vs. hand sanitizer – which one is better?

Both soap and water hand washing and alcohol-based hand sanitizer are great at killing germs on your hands, but it’s important to know when and how to use each method.

If your hands look dirty, if you’re getting ready to eat, or if you’ve just used the restroom, you should wash your hands with soap and water. The best way is to wet your hands first, apply soap and rub your hands together to make a good lathe, before rubbing your hands together for at least 15 seconds. Rub vigorously, the elbow grease will make all the difference. Pay special attention to overlooked spots like fingertips, nails, thumbs and spaces between your fingers. When you are done scrubbing and rinsing, turn off the faucet tap with a paper towel to avoid germs.

Alcohol-based sanitizers are great to use when hands aren’t visibly dirty. Make sure to use enough gel or foam to cover every part of your hands then rub your hands together until they are dry. Alcohol works as it dries so make sure not to blow on your hands or use a towel to try to speed things up.

Keeping your hands clean is a very easy thing to do that can make a big difference in fighting the spread of illness, especially in the healthcare setting. Research shows that good hand hygiene can cut the number of healthcare-associated infections in our country in half.

The next time you’re visiting a patient clean your hands first for safety. Let the patient know that your hands are clean for his or her peace of mind. If you’re a patient don’t be afraid to ask all of your visitors and healthcare workers to clean their hands. Remember, it’s OK to ask. UP Health System – Marquette is committed to always providing excellent, safe care to our communities.

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