With all that a healthcare provider must consider when caring for a patient, it may come as a surprise that hand hygiene is the single most important patient care practice one can perform in preventing healthcare-related infections. Did you know that hands are the greatest potential source for transmitting potentially infectious organisms to patients?

Multiple sources indicate that about 80 percent of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch.

Germs enter the body through the mouth, nose, eyes, genitourinary tract, or breaks in the skin, and hands are the most common carrier. Hand washing is, “hands down,” the best possible way to prevent the spread of germs in the home or hospital environment. In this way, hand washing protects loved one’s and caregivers.

Proper hand washing is very simple, requiring only the following basic steps:

  1. Wet your hands with running water.
  2. Apply liquid soap (if available) and scrub vigorously, for at least 10-15 seconds. (In situations where caretakers don’t have access to clean, running water, a waterless antiseptic agent should be used.)
  3. Pay special attention to nails, between fingers and around rings.
  4. Rinse thoroughly under warm, running water.
  5. Dry with a paper towel or clean cloth. Avoid using a towel, which can put germs back onto your clean hands.
  6. Close the tap with the paper towel, not your hand.

Appropriate times to wash your hands are before and after attending to a loved one; after handling a contaminated (or potentially contaminated) item; after using the toilet, blowing your nose or covering a cough or sneeze; whenever your hands look dirty; and before eating, drinking or handling food items.

Another factor to consider is the impact of frequent handwashing on the caregiver’s skin. Frequent handwashing can cause skin dryness, cracking, irritation or dermatitis. Cracked skin or dermatitis can increase the risk of infection from contact with blood or other potentially infectious bodily fluids, since the skin’s integrity has been compromised. Be sure you rinse soap and dry hands thoroughly. Also make use of hand creams or lotions to minimize dryness and irritation.

It’s so important to make good hand washing a part of your daily routine – it makes the home or care setting safer for yourself and the person you care for. By simply washing your hands, you can help stop infections before they start.

Caring for a family member or friend? Find support at our monthly Caregiver Coffee Break meetings at our community service centers, and other events.