Hand hygiene is one of the most important elements of the infection control process. From home to school to work, employing effective hand-washing practices can be the key to reducing and (perhaps in some cases) eliminating the transmission of germs and other infectious materials. Recent innovations in portable hand sanitizing products have further enabled us to combat the spread of infection and disease, as we are able to cleanse and sanitize our hands even if there is no water or soap close at hand.
'Germs' is the term we use to collectively refer to any agents that are airborne and easily transmitted through hand-to-hand contact. In actuality, the proper term for germs is microbes, which include disease-causing organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Since microbes cannot be seen without a microscope, they can do extensive damage before they are even detected. Microbes can live on and in the human body, and are present throughout our environment, in our food and drinks and in the air we breathe.
Microbes are often transmitted through hand-to-hand contact; in fact, we can infect ourselves merely by touching our own mouth, skin, nose or eyes with un-sanitized hands. It is a well-documented fact that hand-washing is the first and strongest defense against the transmission of microbes; unfortunately, many of us have yet to commit to thorough and frequent hand-washing practices and therefore continue to infect ourselves and others. Although the importance of hand-washing is often stressed as a self-defense technique to avoid illness, it should also be recognized that proper hand hygiene will also prevent us from spreading disease to other, perhaps more vulnerable people than ourselves.
Work and school are perhaps the most significant sources or microbe transmission, due in part to the fact that a large number of people are cooped up in an (often) closed-air environment, breathing the same uncirculated and stagnant air. It should be noted that in work and school environments, a large number of people come into contact with each other and with the same things repeatedly throughout the workday or week. For example, bathroom facilities and door handles are touched repeatedly by the spectrum of people within a particular environment (and even by the public, depending on the nature of the environment). In particular, bathroom facilities are often touched at times when people's hands are soiled, and people don't always consider the necessity for thorough hand-washing techniques. Obviously, some work environments demand even closer attention to hand-washing, especially if workers work closely with the public or frequently come into contact with unsanitary or unsafe products.
While it is rather impossible to wash one's hands as many times as necessary to completely prevent contact with microbes, the increasing availability of portable hand sanitizers has allowed us to reduce the presence of microbes and sanitize our hands adequately until we can actually wash our hands. However, there are certain times and instances in which we should take the time to completely wash our hands, adhering to proper techniques in order to properly remove any lingering microbes. For example, when you are going to eat you should thoroughly wash your hands in order to avoid transferring microbes from your hands to your mouth. As well, you should wash your hands frequently as you prepare and handle food - as you move from preparing one type of food to the next, you should wash your hands.
There are other times when hand-washing is also very important; although some are fairly obvious, they are still important to note. For example, you should obviously wash your hands after using the washroom, and if you have been handling chemicals or other toxic substances. As well, you should wash your hands before handling contact lenses, putting on make-up, or handling a baby. Artificial nails can be a breeding ground for germs, so if you wear them, be sure to clean your hands extra carefully. There are a multitude of other scenarios in which one should be sure to wash their hands thoroughly, but in reality we should try to apply thorough hand-washing practices in every possible instance.
Hand-washing is a short step in personal hygiene, yet often overlooked in times of hurry. No matter what your age, you come into contact with microbes wherever you go, and only you can control how clean and sanitized your own hands are. By adopting good hand-washing techniques, you can reduce your chances of carrying and/or transmitting germs to yourself and those around you.
Tips for Effective Hand-washing
It is important to outline the proper procedure for washing our hands; follow the steps below to an effective and thorough hand-washing technique.
First, remove any jewelry; next, make sure you are using hot water - it does not need to scald you, but it should be hot enough to effectively remove any germs. Once you have adjusted the water temperature accordingly, wet your hands and forearms thoroughly then use soap to create a good lather.
Scrub your entire hands, wrists and forearms, including on and under your fingernails, the backs of your hands and between your fingers for at least 15 to 20 seconds. An effective technique for counting that time would be to sing the "Happy Birthday" song two or three times in your head. Finally, when the 15 to 20 seconds are up, rinse your hands thoroughly under warm water then dry them completely using a hot air dryer or a disposable (single-use) towel.
Although you've now successfully cleaned your hands, you still have to leave the washroom (or hand-washing station) without contaminating them again. To avoid doing so, use a paper towel to turn off the water tap, open the door, and even turn off the light switch. In fact, it may be suggested that one adheres to this practice in any areas that present a high risk of contamination.
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