2009-12-04 / Columnists

St. John's Episcopal Hospital Wellness Corner

A Simple Way To Reduce Your Risk For Flu And H1N1: Hand Washing!
Commentary By Gail Johnson, RN Nancy Traver, RN Sheldon Gleich, MD Infectious Diseases, SJEH

December 6 through 12 is National Hand Washing Awareness Week and, during flu season, a good time to re - view its importance in staying healthy. Hand washing is a simple thing and it's the best way to prevent infection and illness.

Clean hands prevent infections. Keep ing hands clean prevents illness at home, at school, and at work. Hand hygiene practices are key prevention tools in health care settings, and in the community and at home.

At home, hand washing can prevent infection and illness from spreading from family member to family member and, sometimes, throughout the community.

In the home, the basic rule is to wash hands before preparing food and after handling uncooked meat and poultry, before eating, after changing diapers, after coughing, sneezing, or blowing one's nose into a tissue, and after using the bathroom.

Hands should be washed the right way.

When washing hands with soap and water, here are some steps to follow:

Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available.

Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces.

Continue rubbing hands for 15-20 seconds. Imagine singing Happy Birthday twice to a friend.

Rinse hands well under running water.

Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet.

Always use soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.

If hands are not visibly dirty, an alcohol based hand rub can be used to clean your hands. Alcohol-based hand rubs significantly reduce the number of germs on skin and are fast-acting. When using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:

Apply product to the palm of one hand.

Rub hands together.

Rub the product over all surfaces of hands and fingers until hands are dried.

It is known that pandemic and avian influenza are transmitted via human hands. In a study published in the "Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases 2009," data was presented that un - derscored the effectiveness of routine hand hygiene protocols against pandemic and avian influenza.

The study's results showed an immediate reduction in positive cultures of H1N1 virus after drying hands; after hand washing, 14 of 20 health care workers tested negative for H1N1 virus detected by means of culture, whereas six of the 20 tested positive.

Therefore, hand hygiene with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub is highly effective in reducing influenza virus on human hands, and it is an important public health initiative to reduce pandemic and avian influenza transmission.

At St. John's Episcopal Hospital, hand washing is a priority in the care of patients, and sinks and alcohol hand rubs are positioned through - out the facility.

In the hospital, hand washing can prevent potentially fatal infections from spreading from patient to patient and from patient to healthcare worker and vice versa.

Hands should be cleaned before and after each patient contact by either washing hands or using an alcohol-based hand rub.

Remember, hand washing is the single most effective means of controlling the spread and transmission of infection. Stay well - and, please, remember to wash your hands!

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