Keeping hands clean prevents illness at home, at school and at work. Hand hygiene practices are key prevention tools for everyone, but they are even more important in healthcare settings, in daycare facilities, in schools and public institutions, and for the safety of our food.
In healthcare settings, handwashing can prevent potentially fatal infections from spreading from patient to patient and from patient to healthcare worker and vice-versa. The basic rule in the hospital is to cleanse hands before and after each patient contact by either washing hands or using an alcohol-based hand rub.
At home, handwashing can prevent infection and illness from spreading from family member to family member and, sometimes, throughout a 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.
Handwashing and other hygienic practices are taught at every level of school, advocated in the work place, and emphasized during medical training. Yet, recent studies and reports indicate that lack of or improper handwashing still contributes significantly to disease transmission. While we are all potentially at risk of contracting hand-transmitted illnesses, one-third of our population is especially vulnerable, including pregnant women, children, old people, and those with weakened immune systems.
Wash Your Hands: The Right Way
When washing hands with soap and water:
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. Need a timer? Imagine singing "Happy Birthday" twice through 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 soap and clean water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub 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: