Aspirus Media Center

Save Lives: Clean Your Hands


Jennifer Olson, Aspirus Infectious Disease Nurse Practitioner

Hand hygiene is a simple yet essential practice that can help protect ourselves and each other from spreading germs and getting sick.


World Hand Hygiene Day, recognized annually on May 5, is a time to promote the importance of hand hygiene in preventing the spread of infectious diseases in both health care and non-health care settings.


“In health care settings, hand hygiene is crucial to prevent the transmission of health care-associated infections (HAIs), says Jennifer Olson, Aspirus Infectious Disease Nurse Practitioner.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HAIs are infections that patients can acquire while receiving medical care in hospitals, clinics, and other health care facilities. These infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi, and they can result in serious complications, including sepsis, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections. Olson says, “health care professionals are constantly cleaning their hands throughout the day, as they understand the impact that poor hand hygiene can have on their patients’ health as well as their own.”


In non-health care settings, hand hygiene is essential to prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as the flu, the common cold and COVID-19. These diseases can be spread through respiratory droplets or by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus, according to the CDC. Regular hand hygiene can reduce the risk of transmission by removing germs from your hands before you touch your face or other surfaces.


The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that individuals clean their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. It is important to clean all surfaces of the hands, including the palms, backs of the hands, fingers and nails. If there's no soap or water, it's OK to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer but be sure it contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Sanitizers have limitations though. They won't kill all the germs, and they may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty. So, when you have the option, choose soap and water.


“Practice proper handwashing often. It's particularly important to wash before and after handling food and before and after caring for someone who is sick or injured,” says Olson.


You should also wash up after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing; using the toilet or changing a diaper; petting or handling an animal/pet, pet food or animal waste; or touching garbage.


By making hand hygiene a priority in our daily lives, we can all do our part to promote a healthier and safer world.


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