Hand Hygiene Reminders
Proper handwashing and sanitizing is the number one way to prevent the spread of germs at home, at school or work, while navigating your everyday activities, and when receiving health care. Good hand hygiene prevents diarrhea, strep throat, the flu, and many other illnesses caused by bacteria and viruses. It’s so powerful that some healthcare pros consider it a do-it-yourself vaccine. Here’s everything you need to know:
Wash frequently. There are many activities that you can pair with handwashing to ensure health and wellness for yourself and those around you. Here are the key moments to wash up:
- Whenever you use the toilet, help someone else use the toilet, or change a diaper
- Before eating and before, during, and after preparing food
- After blowing your nose or coughing or sneezing into your hand
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick or treating a cut
- After cleaning your house or room or touching garbage
- After handling animals, animal waste, or animal food
- When you arrive to work or school and immediately upon returning home
- Whenever your hands are dirty
Wash thoroughly. Rinse with water and apply soap. Lather all over, including your thumbs, between your fingers, the backs of your hands, and your fingernails. Count or sing to yourself. The lathering portion of washing up should take 20 seconds. Rinse thoroughly, and use a clean towel to try your hands.
Fill in with sanitizer. Sanitizer is great for cleaning hands in situations when soap and water are not available. Keep a bottle of sanitizer in your car and use it when you get into the car after shopping or other errands. You can also keep a bottle on your desk and use it after returning to your office after a meeting.
Remind others. Parents are great at reminding their kids to do things, especially handwashing. But almost everyone could use a reminder now and then. Announcing your own handwashing is a great way to gently encourage others to wash too. “I am just going to wash my hands first.”
One place where you shouldn’t be shy about reminding people to wash their hands is in the healthcare setting. Your provider should wash their hands when entering your exam room, before touching you, and before performing any procedure. They should also wash after they touch anything: you, bodily fluids, or the surroundings. It’s important for you to see them do it.
If you notice a healthcare provider not washing in one of these moments, speak up. “Would you wash your hands, please?” The provider or nurse should stop, wash, and resume.
By each taking responsibility for our germy hands and reminding others to wash frequently and thoroughly, we can improve our health and the health of those around us.
Donna Barron, RN, is the infection preventionist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.