We consider hand hygiene one of the most important infection control measures for reducing the spread of infection. Hand hygiene is a general term that refers to any action of hand cleansing, such as cleaning your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Proper hand hygiene is the most effective way to stop infections spreading.
The aim of hand hygiene is to reduce the number of microorganisms on your hands. Even when your hands look clean, they can still carry germs. This is because they are so small that you just cannot see them. This is why, when we touch other people or objects, we can spread germs without even realizing it.
You should wash your hands properly and often, especially:
- after you cough, sneeze or blow your nose
- before, during, and after preparing food
- after going to the toilet or changing a nappy
- when your hands are visibly dirty
- after smoking
- after handling or patting animals
- before and after taking care of someone who is sick
- when you enter and leave a healthcare facility.
Most of us ignore how we wash our hands, but it is important to do it the right way:
- Use soap and water
- Wet your hands and apply the soap.
- Rub the soap all over your hands. Pay attention to the backs of your hands and fingers, fingernails, fingertips, and the webbing between fingers.
- Rinse your hands under running water.
- Pat hands dry with a towel or paper towel.
If soap and water are not available hand sanitizer can be used:
- Use enough product to cover both of hands.
- Rub all surfaces of your hands. Pay attention to the backs of your hands and fingers, fingernails, fingertips, and the webbing between fingers.
- Rub hands together until dry.
Alcohol-based hand rubs come in small containers which can be carried in your bag or briefcase, or in your pocket. They are ideal for travelling.
When we are fit and healthy, we can usually defend ourselves against germs and infections. Having healthy and intact (unbroken) skin is one of the ways we can do this.
When you are not well, such as after an operation, your ability to fight infection can be weakened. Having an infection in hospital can cause:
- a longer stay in hospital
- slower recovery
- additional stress for all concerned.
Even healthcare providers use a range of prevention strategies to reduce your risk of infection, each time you visit someone in a healthcare facility it is very important that you clean your hands, even if they look clean.
Research has shown that improving hand hygiene:
- among healthcare workers can reduce the spread of germs in hospital settings
- protects both patients and healthcare workers
- reduces the number of healthcare associated infections.
Your healthcare worker should always perform hand hygiene in front of you. If you did not see them do this and are worried, please remind them.