The history of how hand hygiene was conceptualized, underlines how it makes a difference between life and death. Ignaz Philip Semmelweis (1818 – 1865) was a Hungarian born doctor who worked in Vienna. In his hospital, mortality rate in doctor led ward was 3 times higher than midwife led ward. He noticed that doctors worked in autopsy room, then delivered women afterwards.
So, he introduced chlorinated lime in hand washing for the first time by medical care givers. Mortality rate fell dramatically. Semmelweis was therefore remembered as the father of hand hygiene who introduced a revolutionary prophylaxis system in 1847. Needless to say, he saved millions of lives.
‘Prevention is always better than cure’. Washing your hands is easy and saves us from many deadly infections and is one of the most effective ways to stall the spread of germs. Clean hands stop germs from spreading across people and throughout an entire community—home, workplace, schools, childcare facilities and hospitals.
Bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites exist on the skin, mucus and other body fluids. Pathogens transmit through inhalation and touch. Mind you, if you are not ready to spend 40 seconds to wash hands, you are exposing yourselves to host of diseases: Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, Influenza, Typhoid, Skin Infections, Hepatitis A etc.
We should wash our hands during the following times: Before and after preparing food, before eating, before/after caring for sick patient, before/after treating a cut/wound and after using the toilet, changing diapers/cleaning up a child, blowing your nose, touching an animal, animal feed or waste, handling pet food or pet treats, touching garbage.
“You should catch them young” -Hand washing discipline is best inculcated in childhood by explaining children dangers of not washing hands, by setting an example ourselves, and patiently reminding them as often as needed.
Children will wash their hands if dirt is obvious however they will need to be sensitized to wash away germs that can’t be seen.
Soap and water are good handwashing agents. However, if you don't have access to that, hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol could be used. A hand sanitizer with a high level of alcohol can effectively kill bacteria and viruses.
In a healthcare setting, to render hands socially clean and to remove micro-organisms, routine hand hygiene is very important, given the vulnerable hosts that are catered to. Healthcare workers can contaminate their hands by touching the patients and environmental surfaces near patients. Given how hand hygiene is a key element in the prevention of transmission of healthcare associated infections, WHO’s moments and steps are what define an effective hand hygiene protocol for healthcare professionals.
For an effective hand wash one should systematically rub all parts of hands and wrists with soap and water – careful to include areas of hands that are most frequently missed like palm to palm, backs of hands, interdigital spaces, fingertips, thumbs and wrists, nails etc.
Alcohol rubs/gels should be used on visibly clean hands only. In a healthcare setting, alcohol-based hand rubs remove bacteria from hands more effectively than washing hands with plain soap and water.