Did You Wash Your Hands? Hand Hygiene and It’s Role in Infection Prevention

Photo: Dani Toth | freeimages.com

Growing up, I was redundantly asked the same question, “Did you wash your hands?” Whether it was before dinner, after playing outside, or after using the restroom, this question effortlessly flowed from my mother’s mouth. Sometimes, I’m pretty sure that she knew that I had washed them, but the constant reminder was always there. After a while it became customary for me to respond, “Yes I did mom” before she even got the whole question out. When I was younger, I just thought this was the norm. Hand washing was something that was ingrained in my lifestyle. As I grew older I learned that for others, not so much.

The Facts

An alarming study showed that 1 in 5 people admit to not washing their hands after using the restroom, and only 30 percent of those people actually used any soap! In this day and age when there are touchless sinks and soap dispensers designed to distribute just the right amount of soap to create a lather, there is no excuse for one not to stop and spend a couple minutes thoroughly cleaning their hands.
Improper hand hygiene is the leading cause of germ transmission in public places. Using soap and water is still the best way to reduce the number of germs in the environment. If soap and water are not available, one should use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.


When Should You Wash Your Hands?

According to the CDC, a person should wash their hands anytime they have done any of the following activities:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage

Use of Antibacterial Products

You may be wondering if there is a specific kind of soap that is best to use for hand washing. Interestingly, the FDA has banned the marketing of soaps that were once better known as “antibacterial”. The reason for this ban is due to a study by the CDC, stating that there is no real benefit of using an antibacterial soap versus a normal one. Two active ingredients in antibacterial soap, triclosan and triclocarban, were reported to potentially cause the emergence of a microbial-resistant bacteria if used over a long period of time.

This means that, if consumers are exposed to these active ingredients over time, they could build up a resistance to certain bacteria that the body would normally fight off. When this happens, a “super-bug” is created, which is a mutated bacterium that is impossible to treat without creating new antibiotics.

With this information posing a viable threat to effective infection prevention, the FDA ruled that all antibacterial marketed products should be pulled from store shelves and reformulated to remove all active ingredients. This rule does not apply, however, to hand sanitizers or antibacterial products used in healthcare settings.

Proper Hand Washing Technique

In case you were not aware, there is a proper hand washing technique that is recommended by the CDC.

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

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