Bacteria are everywhere; they co-exist with us, occupying their own intrinsic colonies on our skin, nasal passages, mouths, well you get the picture. Many bacteria are vital to our good health, while other would-be intruders are capable of declaring war with our immune systems, depending on their virulence (relative strength) and our own current state of health. If we could see the bacteria that have colonized our bodies with the naked eye, it is safe to say we’d be washing our hands more often.
Try to remember everything your hands touch every day. Then allow yourself the visual image of everyone else touching the same surfaces, people, places and things. If we don’t wash our hands, we transfer all of that to others, to ourselves and to our families as well. Not washing our hands, besides being inconsiderate, is potentially dangerous in a healthcare delivery setting.
We use barriers such as gloves, gowns and masks and we place patients in isolation, but first, we should make a habit of diluting organisms on a consistent basis. The more we dilute potential pathogens, the less chance there is of transmitting bacteria viruses, fungi and fomites to ourselves and others. When we consistently wash our hands, we dilute the organisms. When we vaccinate ourselves, co-workers, residents, families and the community, we dilute the virulence of disease by preventing it all together. Regularly cleaning the immediate environment creates further dilution.
Healthcare workers need to wash their hand or use hand sanitizers before:
- Each patient contact
- After each patient contact
- Donning gloves
- Passing medication
- Performing treatments
- Serving food
- Assisting with drinking or eating
- After using the rest room.
Well, we all know the drill. But are we compliant? Hand washing is the most important step we can take in reducing and diluting the number of pathogens our patients, families and co-workers are exposed to on a daily basis. Their lives are in our hands. It’s just that simple.