If you’re a nurse, you probably spend quite a bit of time every day washing your hands. Hand washing is the single best way to prevent the transmission of infectious and viral diseases, and proper hand washing is critical for a sterile work environment.
But hand washing isn’t just important in hospitals – proper hand washing can save lives and prevent disease transmission in our everyday lives. That’s why the WHO and CDC have collaborated to establish May 5 as “World Hand Hygiene Day”.
On this day, these organizations promote the numerous benefits of hand washing, and emphasize how simply washing your hands with soap and water can prevent the spread of disease, and promote a healthier world.
So, to help spread the word, we’ve put together a list of 5 surprising facts that you may not know about hand washing!
- 80% Of All Infectious Diseases Are Transmitted By Touch
Nurses are certainly aware of this fact. The vast majority of infectious diseases including both bacterial and viral infections are transmitted by touch. However, these infections are rarely caused by direct contact.
Instead, diseases tend to congregate on objects that multiple people use. Doorknobs, fridge handles, vending machine buttons, and so on. These diseases then spread from the infected surface to individuals.
Because of this, smart hand washing techniques are necessary not only to reduce your risk of infection – but to reduce the risk that you will infect others.
This is especially true for nurses. A study found that over 21% of ICU nurses had some form of Staphylococcus aureus present on their hands. Because of this, smart hand washing practices are absolutely essential for good patient outcomes, and to minimize the risk of cross-contamination.
- Doubling Your Hand washing Time Can Lead To A 10x Reduction In Skin Bacteria
The minimum recommended time for hand washing is 15 seconds. When hands are scrubbed for 15 seconds, the vast majority of bacteria is removed, making 15 seconds a fair guideline for most people.
However, studies have shown that doubling hand washing time to 30 seconds can lead to an overall 10x reduction in the presence of harmful bacteria. This makes a 30-second hand washing time ideal for medical professionals such as doctors and nurses.
However, many healthcare workers don’t even meet the minimum 15-second hand washing guideline. In fact, the vast majority of healthcare workers wash their hands for only 9 seconds – and often fail to wash their hands when seeing new patients.
So don’t just meet minimum guidelines. Wash your hands thoroughly for 15-30 seconds, and you can ensure the best possible patient outcomes, and minimize your risk of transmitting hospital-based disease.
- Hot Or Cold? It Doesn’t Matter!
Cold water is just as effective at washing hands as hot water!
In fact, very hot water can increase the risk of dermatitis – especially in health care professionals who wash their hands often – so many professionals recommend using lukewarm or cold water, rather than blisteringly-hot water.
- Hand Washing Is The Best Way To Reduce Diarrhea-Related Deaths
Diarrhea-related deaths are mostly a thing of the past in the developed world – and this is, in large part, due to modern sanitation and hygienic techniques.
However, diarrheal diseases are the second most common cause of death for children in the developing world. There are nearly 1.7 billion cases of childhood diarrheal disease every year, and most of these incidents are preventable by smart hand washing and better sanitation techniques.
It’s been shown that, even when lacking properly sanitized water, hand washing can have a positive effect on reducing diarrhea cases in the developing world. A study performed in Burkina Faso, Africa showed that use of soap and water for hand-washing reduced the rate of diarrhea-related issues by over 35%.
- The First Man To Promote The Benefits Of Hand Washing Was Not Believed By His Peers – And Died In A Mental Hospital
Hand washing may seem like a no-brainer today, but the initial discovery of hand washing by Ignaz Semmelweis was not met with acceptance.
In 1847, Semmelweis discovered that puerperal fever, also known as “childbed fever” could be prevented if doctors and nurses in obstetrical clinics washed their hands regularly between visiting each patient.
This was a major discovery – up to 25-30% of all women who gave birth in a hospital were dying from childbirth-related complications, including communicable diseases.
However, when he presented his findings to his peers, he was ignored and ridiculed – and he was dismissed from his position at his clinic. After this happened, he had great difficulty finding further medical work. He began writing furious letters to his colleague and peers, denouncing them as “irresponsible murderers” – and his wife began to fear that he was losing his mind.
In 1865, Semmelweis was committed to a mental hospital, where he died 14 days later under suspicious circumstances – some believe that he was beaten to death by hospital staff.
His hygienic practices only earned widespread acclaim and acceptance after his death, after Louis Pasteur managed to prove the “germ theory of disease”, which offered an evidence-based theoretical framework for the discoveries that Semmelweis made.
Today, Semmelweis is seen as a pioneer in the world of hand hygiene, alongside contemporaries like Thomas Watson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and Louis Pasteur, and his legacy lives on every time a doctor or nurse washes their hands before seeing a new patient.
Keep Your Hands Clean – Save A Life!
Whether you’re on-duty at your hospital, or you’re picking your kid up from school during flu season, remember to wash your hands whenever possible! Good hand hygiene saves lives, and it’s critical to employ hand washing best practices both in your personal and professional life.
So spread the word about the importance of handwashing, pop open that new bottle of soap, and get to scrubbing! You just might save a life!
This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.