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Hand hygiene

Hand hygiene is one of the most effective ways of stopping the spread of infection.

Hand hygiene refers to any method which effectively removes harmful microorganisms (germs). These include washing with soap and water or using an alcohol based hand sanitiser. For non-healthcare settings or soiled hands, the most effective way to remove microorganisms is to wash hands using soap and running water.

When you should wash your hands

Hands should be washed:

  • after going to the toilet or changing a nappy
  • before and after handling food
  • after sneezing, coughing, blowing nose
  • after caring for someone who is sick
  • after handling rubbish
  • after smoking.

In addition any cuts and abrasions on the hands or fingers should be covered with a water resistant dressing which should be changed as necessary or when the dressing becomes soiled.

Soap

  • Soap (preferably liquid) should be used to wash hands
  • if bar soap is used, ensure it is kept in a container that allows drainage
  • if reusable containers are used for liquid soap, they should be cleaned and dried before refilling with fresh liquid soap
  • the type of soap does not matter provided it is well tolerated by the user
  • antibacterial hand washes are not necessary in most cases, and may encourage the development of resistant bacteria.

A white male washing his hands with soapHow to wash your hands properly

  • Use soap and running water
  • wet hands thoroughly and lather with soap
  • rub hands together for 15 to 20 seconds as you wash them
  • pay attention to the backs of hands, wrists, between fingers and under fingernails
  • rinse hands well under running water
  • dry hands with a single use disposable paper towel or a clean towel.

To minimise chapping (reddening, roughening or cracking of skin) of hands, pat dry rather than rub them.

Hot air driers may be used.

If cloth towels are used, select a fresh towel each time.

Alcohol-based hand sanitisers

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microorganisms (germs) on hands and should always be encouraged over the use of alcohol based hand sanitisers in a non-healthcare setting.

When soap and water are not readily available, alcohol based hand sanitisers or rubs are acceptable but only if the hands are not visibly soiled. The effectiveness of alcohol-based hand sanitisers is reduced when used on hands that are visibly soiled or dirty. Visible contamination and dirt should be removed before using hand sanitisers and can be achieved by using a hand wipe. Hand wipes may be useful when changing babies’ nappies if there are no facilities for washing with soap and water.

How to perform hand hygiene using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser

  • squirt enough alcohol-based hand sanitiser into cupped hands to cover all surfaces
  • rub hands together for 10 to 15 seconds
  • pay attention to the backs of hands, wrists, between fingers and under fingernails
  • ensure that hands are rubbed until all surfaces are dry.

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