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October 19, 2010 > Clean Hands Save Lives

Clean Hands Save Lives

Infection Control Experts Give Hand Hygiene, Flu Prevention Tips

Sometimes it's the simplest actions that we take-or forget to take-each day that can make the biggest difference in our health and safety. Like buckling a seat belt, looking both ways before stepping off the curb-or washing our hands.

For those of us who don't work in health care or food preparation, hand hygiene can seem like an afterthought. Grab some soap, rinse for a couple of seconds under water and wipe for a second with a paper towels before grabbing the bathroom door.

As we enter flu season, members of Washington Hospital's infection control team want to remind the community that proper hand hygiene can play a significant role in keeping people healthy inside and outside the hospital setting.

"The role of the Infection Control team at Washington Hospital is to provide health care system staff and the community with methods and guidance in the prevention of infection," explains Mary Bowron, R.N., MSN, Infection Control program coordinator at Washington Hospital. "Infection Control staff provides activities to support the overall hospital mission. The program also identifies risks of infections and opportunities for infection control measures to prevent and reduce the risk of disease transmission for patients, visitors, students, volunteers, physicians, and staff."

According to Lia Estadi, LVN, the hospital's Infection Control preventionist, most health care-associated infections can be prevented through effective and consistent hand hygiene.

"Hand hygiene is the single most effective means to prevent the spread of infection," Estadi says. "Cleaning hands at the right times and in the right way can save lives."

When it comes to the flu, Bowron and Estadi point out that people infected with the influenza virus can spread it to others up to about six feet away through airborne transmission. But clean hands also are important.

"Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk," Bowron says. "These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

"Less often, a person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose. Performing hand hygiene will greatly reduce this risk by breaking the chain of infection."

In a study published by researchers at the Unversity of California, Berkeley's School of Public Health, research subjects were shown to touch their faces an average of almost 16 times per minute.

Considering all the other objects we touch on a daily basis, there's another reason to practice good hand hygiene.

"Numerous surface areas can harbor the influenza virus, including countertops, doorknobs and telephones," Estadi says. "People may often forget that linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick should not be shared without washing thoroughly first. Eating utensils can be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap and do not need to be cleaned separately."

Also, Bowron and Estadi recommend keeping all surface areas routinely cleaned with the use of a disinfectant.

When it comes to best practices for hand hygiene, knowing when to clean your hands can be just as important as cleaning them. Important times for hand hygiene include:
* Before and after preparing food
* Before and after eating food
* After using the toilet
* After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
* Before and after tending to someone who is sick
* After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
* After handling an animal or animal waste
* After handling garbage
* Before and after treating a cut or wound

There are, according to Bowron and Estadi, different methods of hand hygiene that are appropriate in different situations. If your hands are not visibly soiled and you do not have access to soap and water, they recommend using an alcohol-based sanitizer in the following sequence:
* Apply product to the palm of one hand, using the amount of product indicated on the label.
* Rub hands together.
* Rub the product over all surfaces of hands and fingers until hands are dry.
When using soap and water, they recommend the following guidelines:
* Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available.
* Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces.
* Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds. (Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.)
* Rinse hands well under running water.
* Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet.

"Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others," Bowron says. "Clean hands save lives!"

For more information about hand hygiene, Bowron and Estadi recommend visiting the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) page at

Get a Flu Shot!

In addition to good hand hygiene, an annual flu vaccination is another important way to stay healthy this season. Washington Urgent Care offers flu shots every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The clinic is located at 2500 Mowry Ave., Suite 212 in Fremont. Appointments are not required, but if you would like to reach a staff member, call (510) 791- CARE (791-2273) or visit for more information.

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