The importance of hand washing has been recognised by the medical profession for more than 150 years. Proper hand washing helps control the spread of infections and viruses. The emergence of antibiotic-resistant organisms in recent years has increased the importance of effective hand washing. Wash hands before handling or eating food, and after using the toilet, touching animals or sneezing.
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Avoid touching objects that might be contaminated with germs. With tactile children, this is particularly difficult. Common sources of germs include touching dirty hands, changing dirty diapers, rotting food and stagnant water, droplets released by other people coughing or sneezing and contact with an ill person's body fluids. These can result in the transmission of flu, meningitis, hepatitis A, bronchiolitis and many forms of infectious diarrhoea.
The Minnesota Department of Health recommends washing hands using liquid soap rather than bar soap. This type of soap is found in most public toilets and is released by depressing a lever. Medical workers are required to wash their hands between patient contacts using hand sanitiser from dispensers located throughout their work environment. It's worth carrying a small container of hand sanitiser around at all times in case soap and water are not available.
Remove all jewellery and roll up your sleeves. Rub the soap or hand sanitiser vigorously onto the fronts and backs of the hands, the wrists, the fingertips, between the fingers and beneath the fingernails. As a timer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest humming the tune to "Happy Birthday" twice through. It is essential to reach any surface of the hands and wrists that germs might adhere to. According to a study cited in the Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England, personnel working in one hospital's orthopaedic department neglected to wash an area amounting to 7.8 per cent of their hands. After being educated on proper technique, this was reduced to 2.3 per cent.
Rinse off the soap with water and dry your hands using a paper towel. Use the paper towel to turn the tap off. Many people turn the tap off using their newly washed hand. This should be avoided, as it allows the transmission of germs from the tap to the hand. Hand sanitiser evaporates, so no rinsing is required.
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- Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England: Improving Hand-Washing Performance -- A Crossover Study of Hand-Washing in the Orthopaedic Department
- Health Protection Agency: Handwashing
- NHS: Handwashing
- Kids Health: Why is Hand Washing So Important?
- World Health Organization: Clean Care is Safer Care
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives