According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the prevalence of health care-associated infection in developed countries varies between 3.5% and 12%. Also, in these countries, according to the WHO “approximately 30% of patients in intensive care units (ICU) are affected by at least one health care-associated infection.” Health care-associated infections, or “nosocomial” and “hospital” infections, affect patients in a hospital or other health-care facility, and are not present or incubating at the time of admission. They include infections acquired by patients in the hospital or facility but appearing after discharge, and occupational infections among staff.
This year the CDC is promoting the “Clean Hands Count” campaign for Hand Hygiene Day. The focus of this campaign has three goals:
Improve healthcare provider adherence to CDC hand hygiene recommendations.
Address the myths and misperceptions about hand hygiene.
Empower patients to play a role in their care by asking or reminding healthcare providers to clean their hands.
Health care providers have specific requirements for hand washing in the health care setting. For most instances, applying an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to hands that are already visibly clean is sufficient. Some instances that would require the use of soap and water include: before eating and after using the restroom; after known or suspected exposure to Clostridium difficile, Bacillus anthracis, or Norovirus; or if they are performing a procedure that requires it, such as a surgery.
As patients and visitors to health care settings we also have a responsibility to control the spread of germs. Here is one way that germs can spread, that good hand hygiene can prevent: The germ is on one person’s hand, then that person touches an object. The germ will be on the object until another person comes along and touches it. Then the germ is on the new person’s hand. When the new person eats, or touches a body opening such as eyes or open sore, the germ has now gained access to a new host and will start to multiply and make the new host ill. Since potentially deadly germs can be present on any surface in a health care setting, it is recommended that patients and their visitors practice frequent hand washing while at the facility and after leaving. Hand rails, elevator buttons, telephones, remote controls, bed rails, tables, door knobs, literally any surface can serve as a fomite (objects or materials which are likely to carry infection). Practicing good hand hygiene can stop the spread of germs and end the life cycle of that organism, while practicing poor hand hygiene can further the spread of the germs by infecting a new host and continuing the life cycle. This is why clean hands save lives.
The CDC encourages patients and patient advocates to take a more active role in their own health care by helping providers and visitors to remember to wash their hands. For example, if you are in the hospital and someone comes in your room, they should immediately wash their hands or at least use sanitizer. They likely touched several fomites on the way in. It is perfectly OK to ask anyone coming into your room to wash their hands and/or use hand sanitizer. It may save your life. For more information on the Clean Hands Count Campaign, visit www.cdc.gov/handhygiene. Resources are available for healthcare providers in the form of Hand Hygiene Posters for both staff and patients. Informational statistics are also available. For more information on the WHO hand hygiene information visit www.who.int/infection-prevention/en/.
Dawn Keller is a Registered Sanitarian at the Meigs County Health Department.