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FirstHealth of the Carolinas
Hand washing saves lives

HandwashingHand washing

More than 150 years ago, an Austrian doctor noticed that maternity patients in his hospital were dying at an alarming rate and almost always after being treated by student doctors who had worked on cadavers during an anatomy class before starting rounds.

With one simple order, however, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis was able to cause a significant drop in the number of patient deaths. He did so by insisting that his students wash their hands before they started their rounds.

It would be another 50 years before hand washing would be generally accepted as the health care worker’s most important tool for preventing the spread of infection. And even now, compliance with hand hygiene remains low in many hospitals—sometimes well under 50 percent.

Today, health care operations across the nation—including all FirstHealth of the Carolinas facilities—are focusing on a change in their “hand-washing culture” as studies show that most health care-related infections are transmitted through the hands and can be prevented by proper hand hygiene.

In health care settings, hand washing can prevent potentially fatal infections from spreading from patient to patient and from patient to health care worker and vice-versa. The basic rule in the hospital is to clean the hands before and after each patient contact by either washing the hands or using an alcohol-based hand rub.

In the home, hand washing can prevent infection and illness from spreading from family member to family member and sometimes throughout a community. At home, the basic rule is to wash hands before preparing food and after handling uncooked meat and poultry, before eating, after changing diapers, after coughing, sneezing, or blowing one’s nose into a tissue, and after using the bathroom.

Save a life, clean your hands

The best defense against a host of potentially life-threatening diseases, as well as the spread of seasonal cold and flu, is hand washing.

On Oct. 7, 2009, FirstHealth of the Carolinas embarked on an aggressive hand-washing awareness campaign to encourage regular hand washing.

Called “Save a life, clean your hands,” the program is designed to encourage a change in FirstHealth’s hand-washing culture. FirstHealth’s goal is to have everyone (volunteers, medical staff, FirstHealth staff and visitors) wash their hands as they enter and leave every patient room.

Flu facts
Although flu is generally transmitted from person to person by respiratory droplets (by a person coughing or sneezing), you can also get the flu after touching something, such as a telephone or a doorknob, that has the virus on it.

For that reason, hand washing is still an important defense against flu.

If you get sick, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people. If you have symptoms of flu and are at high risk of complications, such as pneumonia, or if you are concerned about your illness, call your health care provider for advice.

Flu symptoms can come on suddenly and can be mild or severe. If they are mild, they can become severe without much notice so be aware of your body and monitor your body temperature.

The common symptoms of flu include fever (usually high), headache, muscle aches, chills, extreme tiredness and dry cough. Runny nose and stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur but are more common in children than adults.

Symptoms of H1N1 (swine flu) are like regular flu symptoms and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Many people with H1N1 also have diarrhea and vomiting.

Hand-washing for maximum effectiveness:

  • Remove your rings before washing your hands OR clean under and around your rings as you wash your hands.
  • Standing away from the sink, turn the water on and adjust to warm temperature and slow flow.
  • Wet your hands with water.
  • Keeping your hands lower than your elbows, apply generous portion of soap.
  • Wash vigorously for 15 seconds, using friction to cover all surfaces of the hands, with particular attention to fingertips and nails.
  • Rinse your hands thoroughly by holding them under running water with the fingertips downward.
  • Dry the wrists and hands with paper towels from fingertips to wrist.
  • Use a dry paper towel to turn off the water since the faucet is considered contaminated.
  • Avoid using hot water, because repeated exposure to hot water can increase the risk of dermatitis.

Alcohol-rub procedure:

  • Apply alcohol-based hand rinse or foam to the palm of one hand and rub the hands together.
  • Rub vigorously, covering all parts of the hands until dry.

Alcohol-based hand rub can be used routinely to decontaminate the hands IF the hands are not visibly soiled OR after contact with inanimate objects or a patient’s intact skin.