The golden rules of “hand awareness,” now being posted for health care workers, contain hidden gems that could help everyone cut the risk of colds, flu, and dozens of other diseases.
The U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the new guidelines in December, after years of fuming over doctors, nurses, and other health care workers who treat patients with unwashed hands.
Anyone can get the guidelines on the Internet at www.cdc.gov/handhygiene.
Clean hands, CDC concluded, are the single most important factor in preventing the spread of germs in health care settings.
About 2 million patients develop infections each year while in hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities. An estimated 90,000 die.
Health care personnel pick up germs on their hands while treating patients. Unwashed hands may carry the microbes and could travel from patient to patient.
The CDC guidelines detail when and how health care personnel should disinfect their hands. CDC also encourages patients and families to take the initiative whenever necessary and remind lax health care workers to scrub up.
Many people could benefit from washing their hands more often, and more thoroughly, during their own daily activities.
Hands that look clean actually may be filthy with bacteria, viruses, and other microbes. Some grow naturally. Others get picked up when you touch door knobs, water faucets and toilet handles, telephones, computer keyboards, and other objects.
Handshakes and other skin contact with people play as big a role at home, school, and in the office as in hospitals.
Touch an object touched by someone else, or shake their hand. You've just touched all the objects and hands that person has touched since his or her last hand wash.
If you then rub your eyes, touch your lips, or pick your nose, you can transfer millions of germs into your body. Those are the main gateways for germs to infect the body.
A few days later, you may be sick, especially if your immune system was a little weak.
The American Medical Association distilled four rules of hand awareness from the CDC guidelines:
When washing, wet the hands first with water, soap up, and scrub the hands together for at least 15 seconds, CDC advises. Many people don't use soap, or don't wash long enough. Wash under the fingernails, a favorite refuge for microbes. CDC advises health care workers to keep their nails short - no more than a quarter-inch long - and to avoid wearing artificial nails.
Rinse and dry hands thoroughly with a disposable towel. Use the towel to turn off the faucet, or you may immediately pick up germs from other people who touched it.
Like cutting boards, countertops, and utensils, unwashed hands also can pass on food poisoning bacteria in the kitchen.