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Clean Hands Count to Keep Patients Safe from Healthcare Associated Infections

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog
Janet Glowicz, PhD, RN
Janet Glowicz, PhD, RN
Janet Glowicz, PhD, RN, Infection Preventionist
CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion

On any given day, about one in 31 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection. Healthcare providers who clean their hands often, provide clean care for their patients and help prevent the spread of germs that can lead to serious infections. This World Hand Hygiene Day, remember: clean care for all – it’s in your hands.

Clean hands count:  When you’re healthy, you have the power to make sure your hands are clean. When you’re ill, you count on everyone who is caring for you to clean their hands, and frequently. Consider nursing technicians who care for 10 or more patients in a 12-hour shift. They should clean their hands every time they enter and exit a patient room. They also have to make sure their hands are clean before they feed someone, after they handle dirty materials, and any other time they move between “clean” and “dirty” tasks—maybe as many as 100 times in a shift. That’s a lot of hand hygiene.

Clean hands protect:  Healthcare workers’ hands are continually exposed to bacteria, which can be transferred from patient to surface to patient. Researchers studying hand contamination and Acinetobacter, a bacteria that can cause healthcare-associated infections, found that healthcare personnel were likely to have the bacteria on their hands after activities as brief as touching a bed rail. Bacteria aren’t visible, but busy healthcare providers might forget that clean-looking hands can be contaminated with germs that can cause infections. The simple act of rubbing alcohol-based hand sanitizer into the hands for around 20 seconds rapidly kills many organisms and reduces the threat for the next patient the healthcare worker touches.

Clean hands save lives:  Researchers in a facility in North Carolina that routinely scores high in hand hygiene adherence, weren’t satisfied when personnel performed hand hygiene appropriately more than 80% of the time. They aimed higher. By successfully engaging all healthcare personnel, they raised the rate to 95%.  This saved the facility a lot of money, and even more importantly, the prevention of dangerous infections.

Clean hands care:  CDC has long recognized the lifesaving benefits of hand hygiene in healthcare settings. It’s a critically important infection prevention measure and applies to every type of patient, in every healthcare setting. You can help your healthcare providers remember to clean their hands. You should see them cleaning their hands before they enter the room to take care of you, and often during care, if you don’t see them cleaning their hands, speak up! They should clean their hands again when they leave the room. Your healthcare provider knows how important clean hands are. Next time you see them cleaning their hands, tell them how much you appreciate clean hands. And don’t forget to clean your hands, too!

Janet Glowicz, PhD, RN is an infection preventionist with the Hospital Infection Prevention Team in the Prevention and Response Branch of CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. Janet has directed infection prevention programs in the community setting, community-based hospitals, and an academic medical center. She currently serves as the subject matter expert for hand hygiene in healthcare settings.

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog

18 comments on “Clean Hands Count to Keep Patients Safe from Healthcare Associated Infections”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    First off, I appreciate this much-needed topic. Thank you for sharing this wonderful blog and all this information.

    Thank you for sharing this post with us. Even a small change in taking care of patients can make lot of difference. They can get well, proper,hygienic treatment and possibly could get cured quickly. Thank you once again for sharing such a nice informative post.

    This post is very informative on this topic Thank you for sharing this post with us.

    Hello Janet. I hope this finds you well. Yes, it is important to have clean hands. Do you know how many times a day you touch your nose? Answer is 250-400 times per day. You can’t possibly wash your hands this much. You can however easily and inexpensively sanitize your nose. And provide a 12 hour barrier from anything else growing in there. It’s an OTC and everyone should use it that is in the hospital or gets on a plane in my opinion. Do you know it was very instrumental in stopping the spread of MRSA in a hospital where it was rampant. Have you heard of Nozin? Have you tried it? If not why not? I wish you well in your Infection Control endeavors and am always surprised that everyone talks about having clean hands but no one talks about not touching your nose. Does bacteria grow on your hands? You say no but that is how you transmit it. Yes, true but what percentage of healthcare workers are now MRSA positive in their nares? If you haven’t already received samples of Nozin please reach out to them on their website. All the Best, Janelle

    Start with freshpersons first day of class.
    Students must be taught and drilled re proper technique and tested How and when. Cafeteria should have enough places to wash the hands. Hundreds of health workers eat without handwashing

    The most efficacious way to perform hand hygiene is to wash your hands. The benefits of hand washing far outweigh hand sanitizing. The risks and hazards of hand sanitizing far outweigh handwashing. Hand sanitizers were intended as the alternative to hand washing. Hand Sanitizers chemically inactivate microorganisms (at best), they do not remove/kill all microbes and the effects or cumulative exposure to their(hazardous) ingredients (ethanol @60%) are now being investigated by the FDA. Hand sanitizers are ineffective against
    c difficile (to name one microbe) and are affected by bioburden(unclean hands). Their use should be limited to the unavaiability of soap and water. Sanitizers are not intended to take the place of hand washing when sinks (soap and water) are readily available. Lets not minimize the importance of hand washing with liquid soap and water. Hats off to Ignaz Semmelweiss.

    Thank you, Janet, for a very well written and easy to understand article. We also need a reminder that while wearing gloves might protect the caregiver from the patient, those same gloves, unchanged, can cross contaminate numerous inanimate objects that the next caregiver or patient touches. Pushing a wheelchair with gloved hands (we’ve all seen this), then touching something that should be clean, changes the “clean” object into one that is now contaminated.

    Janet,
    I loved that you brought up the point that patients should “speak up” if they didn’t see their caretaker wash their hands (as well as complimenting that they did). As healthcare providers we should empower our patients to say something, and as patients we should feel that we have permission to say something without it negatively impacting the care we receive. As you noted, hand washing is so important in reducing the spread of bacteria and yet it is still high on the list of practices that need to be improved upon by healthcare providers. I believe it will be a concerted commitment on the part of both the patient and provider that can turn this around. Please…ask me if I washed my hands! Peggy RN

    Very true ,from the study during my PG at TMMC&RC U.P. India I got more than 90% of HCW having mixed population of anaerobes in their hand during their regular working hours.

    When we used the “Black Light” after using the alcohol hand sanitizer, it took 30 seconds, not 20 to have clean hands. 20 seconds worked when using the warm water & soap.

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