With all the concern about infectious diseases being in the news, I thought this might be a good time to write about the importance of one of the most effective ways of preventing spreading infectious diseases: washing your hands effectively.
Health care workers are well aware of the importance of hand washing. We are also obligated to always follow what is called universal precautions. Universal precautions were defined and implemented in the 1980s as the rate of HIV infections were on the rise.
Infections that are passed from one person to another fall into two categories, bloodborne (bodily fluid) and airborne. Universal precautions, including hand washing, are an effective way of preventing the transmission of bloodborne infections.
Universal precautions came about to protect both health care workers and patients from acquiring an infection from exposure to bodily fluids that might be contaminated.
The practice of universal precautions requires the health care worker to have a barrier such as gloves, goggles and face shields whenever exposed to a patient’s bodily fluids. It also includes guidelines for the disposal of needles and sharp objects.
Universal precautions also includes hand washing.
The proper way to wash hands following the universal precautions is to use soap and water together, creating friction between one’s hands, for at least 20-30 seconds. Studies were done to determine the most effective length of time to effectively remove disease causing bacteria.
When people washed their hands for 5 seconds, hardly any bacteria were removed. At 30 seconds, almost all pathogenic bacteria were gone.
Does the temperature of the water matter? Not really. What removes the bacteria is the friction between your hands.
Does the soap matter? Plain soap sometimes works better than some of the antibacterial soaps.
What does make a difference is bar soap compared to liquid soap. Harmful bacteria can grow on a bar of soap. If possible, use liquid soap.
The other factor that is important is how you dry your hands. Drying your hands with a paper towel continues the removal of harmful bacteria. It has been proven that machines that blow warm air to dry hands may cause bacteria to grow on the hands.
Pathogenic bacteria can be blown onto your freshly washed hands.
Hand sanitizers that are alcohol based are another effective way of removing pathogens from the skin on your hands. They must be at least 60 percent alcohol. That can be very drying to the skin, so let hand washing be your first choice if possible.
Turn on the water, wet your hands, turn the faucet off, lather up with soap and create friction between your wet, soapy hands. Lather the front and back of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails, rinse your hands, and then dry with a paper towel.
Wash your hands. You may save a life — your own or someone else’s.
Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital’s Family BirthPlace. Her column appears every other week in Healthy Living in the Bradenton Herald. Contact her at email@example.com.