We learned many lessons during the H1N1 Flu Pandemic in 2009, but one of the things that stayed with us is the importance of keeping our hands clean. Germs spread easily, and everything we touch – at home, work, or traveling, contains germs. Our bodies are built to resist many of them, but for those that we can’t, we can wash them away with a good hand scrubbing. December 4 – 10 has been set aside as the week to make everyone aware of the importance of washing our hands.
When we are ill, we sometimes have to be hospitalized. We go there to get well; however, many times patients acquire what are known as HAI’s – healthcare-associated infections. These infections represent a public health issue requiring many people and organizations working together in a comprehensive effort to attack these largely preventable infections. The Centers for Disease Control is working with partners and states to implement infection prevention tools toward the elimination of HAI’s.
One of the most important things patients can do (if they are aware), is to be sure that their caregivers keep their hands clean. If you or a family member notices they haven’t washed their hands when they enter the room, don’t be afraid to remind them to do so. Most rooms are equipped with hand sanitizers at the entrance of each room. You don’t know what the patient in the next room has, so their germs are not welcome in other patient rooms.
Kimberly-Clark sponsored a study in which 1,000 adults in the United States were interviewed about healthcare-associated infections. This study revealed that over half of the respondents had little or no awareness of HAI’s. About fifty-six per cent of the respondents were not familiar or not at all familiar with HAI’s. When asked to identify the contributors to HAI’s, less than one per cent were able to distinguish accurately between those that do and those that do not contribute to these infections.
After learning what HAI’s are, nearly two-thirds of all people (63%) were interested in learning more about this type of infection. This is good news, because patients and family members, along with caregivers, have an important role to play in reducing the risk of this type of infection. Had I not previously worked in a hospital, I am sure I would be among the many who were not aware of the seriousness of this problem. (Hospitals strive to keep their infection rates as low as possible.)
One of the key things we can do to prevent infections, not just in hospitals or home healthcare, but in public situations, such as work, schools, shopping malls, airports, and at home is to keep our hands clean. A little thing like warm water and soap can go a long way, according to our safety poster:
In addition to the poster, use a paper towel to open the door after you have washed your hands in a public restroom. I also keep hand sanitizer in my car, so I can clean my hands after shopping. Get your children in the habit of washing their hands often. (Easier said than done!) Anything we can do to keep the spread of germs down, the healthier we will all be.