Handwashing with soap and water is a way to keep hand hygiene in non-healthcare settings, and the CDC and other experts recommend its use in these situations. Handwashing is one of the most effective methods for preventing patient-to-patient, patient-to-staff, and staff-to-patient transmission of infection. A high level of hand hygiene can stop outbreaks in healthcare facilities and reduce the transmission of infection. There are many reasons why healthcare professionals are non-compliant with hand hygiene protocols, such as lack of time, inconvenience, high workload, and poor staffing.
Hands should be washed, or alcohol-based rubs should be used:
- before and after patient contact
- between patient contacts
- after gloves are removed
- after contact with blood, body fluids, secretions, mucous membranes, excretions, and contaminated equipment
- after contact with inanimate objects and medical equipment near a patient
- after using the bathroom
- before eating
- In certain situations, e.g., between tasks on the same patient to prevent cross-contamination. Cross-contamination may happen if you clean a bowel movement, then start washing the patient’s face without changing gloves
In addition to traditional handwashing with soap and water, the CDC recommends using alcohol-based hand cleansers by healthcare workers who perform patient care because they address some of the barriers that healthcare professionals face when taking care of patients and frequently washing their hands.
Alcohol-based hand rubs work well, in most cases, as well as soap and water. They reduce the number of microorganisms on the skin, are fast, and cause less skin irritation than soap and water. When using an alcohol-based hand rub, apply the product to the palm of one hand and rub your hands together for approximately 20 seconds, covering all surfaces of the hands and fingers until the hands are dry. Alcohol-based hand rubs take less time than traditional hand washing. In addition, hand rub dispensers can be mounted almost anywhere, instead of going to a sink.
Soap and water should be used when hands are visibly dirty. For all other situations, an alcohol-based hand rub can be used. The use of hand hygiene does not eliminate the need for gloves. Gloves can significantly reduce hand contamination, prevent cross-contamination, and protect patients and healthcare workers from infection. However, incorrect use of gloves can greatly increase hand contamination. Gloves must be removed after patient contact and a new pair put on for each new patient contact, and they should be replaced if they are torn, damaged, or grossly soiled. Healthcare workers should not wear artificial nails and keep natural nails less than one-quarter of an inch long if they care for patients at high risk of getting infections.