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Washing Hands in Sink with Soap and Water

Hand Hygiene Guidelines

The science is clear – in the healthcare setting, clean hands protect patients from life threatening infections and includes clean hands for healthcare providers, patients and their loved ones.

Dirty hands are a contributing factor in the spread of healthcare-associated infections that affect 1 in 25 hospital patients on any given day. All healthcare providers should follow good hand hygiene practices, such as cleaning their hands before and after every patient contact. For frequent hand hygiene in the healthcare setting- sometimes up to 100 times in one 12-hour shift- alcohol-based hand sanitizers are more effective and less drying than frequent use of soap and water.

The CDC Hand Hygiene Guidelines for healthcare settings provides a review of scientific data on hand washing, including indications, surgical hand antisepsis, technique, selection of agents, and skin care.

Gina Pugliese, VP Safety Institute shares thoughts on: “Improving Hand Hygiene” on Wall Street Journal’s live program, LunchBreak.

Hand hygiene by healthcare personnel is seen as the most important strategy to prevent patient-to-patient transmission of healthcare-associated infection (HAI) in any healthcare setting. Consumers seeking medical care are increasingly aware of hand hygiene as one of the key measures to prevent healthcare associated infections and recognize their need to partner with caregivers’ practices to help improve the frequency of hand hygiene, often less than optimal.

All health care professionals know the importance of hand hygiene to prevent spread of infection, but also recognize that they sometimes forget to wash their hands in an often rushed and busy clinical environment. They also welcome reminders (e.g., visual or auditory prompts, signage) which have been shown to increase hand hygiene compliance. Research has also shown that multiple techniques are needed to improve compliance, and reminders from patients are among them. Visit our section on resources and tools for more information.

We know that hand washing, also referred to as hand hygiene, is also one of the best ways to stay healthy and avoid getting sick and spreading infections like colds, flu or intestinal infections to others, in any setting, including the home, at work, at school, when traveling, or in a healthcare setting.  General hand washing can be done with only soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that doesn’t even require water to use. Public health experts are hoping that everyone would adopt the habit of always cleaning hands when preparing food, eating, using the toilet, changing a diaper, or touching a sick or injured person.

May 5 is Clean Your Hands Day opens in a new tab. CDC launched Clean Hands Count opens in a new tab, a campaign urging healthcare providers, patients, and patients’ loved ones to clean their hands to prevent healthcare-associated infections. More information.

Hand hygiene is accomplished by either hand washing using soap and water, or hand sanitizing by rubbing hands with alcohol-based hand rubs (ABHR). Hand washing with soap and water when hands are visibly soiled is still the gold standard. However, in most all other situations, the use of ABHR and its ease of use and convenience has dramatically improved hand hygiene in all settings, including healthcare, where hand hygiene has been shown to reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections.

The public can purchase soap and sanitizers in the grocery or convenience stores and small, conveniently sized alcohol hand sanitizers can be kept literally anywhere. In the healthcare setting, larger volume containers of alcohol hand sanitizers are stored and dispensed, requiring compliance with special procedures and fire codes.

  • CDC – Hand Hygiene Guideline, Education and Evidence Among the most comprehensive and evidence-based guidelines for hand antisepsis and hand hygiene to reduce healthcare-associated infections is the one developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), entitled: Guideline for Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings opens in a new tab. The guideline includes reviews of research on the efficacy of alcohol-based hand rubs and the low incidence of dermatitis associated with their use, value of multidisciplinary hand hygiene promotion programs, and role of alcohol-based hand rubs in improving hand-hygiene practices. Also covered in the guidance is the use of surgical hand antiseptics, hand lotions or creams, jewelry, gloving, and wearing of artificial fingernails. Ultimately, the CDC urges that adherence to recommended hand hygiene practices should become part of a culture of patient safety.
  • CDC – Hand Hygiene Videos opens in a new tab

Because of the importance of hand hygiene to prevent healthcare associated infections, many organizations, including the CDC, have developed tools and resources for healthcare staff, families, and children, to help educate and promote hand hygiene. These tools include books, posters, buttons, stickers, videos, and slide programs. Visit our resource section and view a selection of tools available from a variety of public, professional, consumer, healthcare organizations and clinicians, the CDC, and the World Health Organization (WHO).

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