Hand Hygiene Handwashing and Clean Hands Saves Lives

What Is Hand Hygiene


What Is Hand Hygiene?

Hand hygiene is a preventive practice to stop the spread of disease. These practices include basic handwashing, using antisepsis to kill germs on hands, and protecting the skin.

Importance of effective hand hygiene in the health care community

How many times were you told to wash your hands while growing up? Today, many of us instinctively wash our hands because we associate clean hands with less germs meaning we will get sick less. Even though this is a simple concept, the correlation is important to a healthy lifestyle. Infectious agents (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) exist everywhere and is nearly ubiquitous in health care facilities.

Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), also known as nosocomial infections, continue to plague the world causing mortality in 99,000  patients every year in the United States alone. It is believed that a number of these patients could have avoided death if the hospitals they were discharged from had a more effective approach to hand hygiene in each of their facilities. It is generally agreed among infection control practitioners that healthcare-associated infections rates can be reduced dramatically if every clinician followed Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines of washing hands and using antisepsis products. Sick people are known to be carriers of microorganisms, but it may not be as well known that inanimate objects like furniture and the telephone can also have on the surface live pathogens like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Healthy individuals are protected from most pathogenic organisms because of their natural immune system. In contrast, many hospital patients have weakened immune systemes making them susceptible hosts for numerous pathogenic agents.

Since the hands are in constant contact with the surroundings, killing microorganisms that exist on the hands of healthcare workers and visitors is one of the best ways to proactively protect patients from HAIs. Unfortunately, the  hand hygiene compliance rate in America is poor averaging 50%. It is no surprise that hospitals like University of Geneva Hospitals was able to reduce the number of healthcare-associated infections by 40% by improving their hand hygiene compliance rate. As the problem of HAIs become more rampant, improving hand hygiene within healthcare facilities will be one of the most effective ways to reduce the number of healthcare-associated infections.

Hand Hygiene References
  • Haley RW, Culver DH, White JW et al. The efficacy of Infection surveillance and control programs in preventing nosocomial infections in US hospitals. AM J Epidermiol. 1985;121:182-205.
  • Boyce JM, Pittet D. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Guideline for Hand Hygiene in Health-Care Settings. Recommendations of the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee and the HICPAC/SHEA/APIC/IDSA Hand Hygiene Task Force. MMWR. 2002:51:1-45.
  • Rotter M. Hand washing and hand disinfection. Mayhall CG, ed. Hospital epidemiology and infection control. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1999.
  • Maki D. Control of colonization and transimission of pathogenic bacteria in hospital. Ann Intern Med 1978;89(Pt 2):777-80.