As DHEC and other public health agencies across the country have responded to COVID-19, one of the key prevention steps – in addition to wearing masks and physical distancing – has been the practice of good hand washing. That’s because clean hands save lives.
The practice is so important that on May 5 of each year we observe World Hand Hygiene Day.
Good hand hygiene is the single most important practice supported by evidence in helping eliminate cross-contamination and reduce healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).
It’s a way of reminding everyone – particularly health care workers – that hand cleanliness plays a key role in preventing HAIs. Up to 70 percent of HAIs that occur yearly could be prevented if health care workers follow recommended protocols, which include proper hand washing.
The key elements for keeping hands clean are soap and water or hand sanitizer.
Soap and water
Use soap and water when hands are visibly soiled and/or when working with a patient or an environment in which you may come into contact with contaminants.
The amount of time for proper hand washing with soap and water varies from 15 seconds to 30 seconds (depending on the study), so hands should be vigorously scrubbed for a minimum of 15 seconds.
An alcohol-based hand sanitizer is the preferred method for cleaning your hands when they are not visibly dirty because it:
- Is more effective at killing potentially deadly germs on hands than soap;
- Requires less time;
- Is more accessible than hand washing sinks;
- Reduces bacterial counts on hands;
- Improves skin condition with less irritation and dryness than soap and water.
Whether it is using traditional soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers, proper handwashing must continue to be emphasized by all champions of infection prevention as a constant in the fight to prevent disease spread and saving lives.
Click here to view a video on why good hand hygiene is important now more than ever.