PURELL CXR handwashing in restroom

#WashYourHands: It Could Help Save Lives

Marla Dalton


By Marla Dalton, CAE, PE, IOM

Executive Director & Chief Executive Officer, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases

If everyone routinely and thoroughly washed their hands, an estimated one million deaths each year could be prevented around the world. At a time when scientists and public health authorities across the globe are working to develop new diagnostic tests, vaccines, and treatments to control the current pandemic, it is particularly important today, on World Hand Hygiene Day, to remember that the simple act of proper handwashing can help save lives.

Held on May 5 each year, World Hand Hygiene Day is an annual observance that emphasizes the importance of handwashing in helping to prevent the spread of disease. In order to raise awareness about this simple, but important public health intervention, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) recently released a new animated #WashYourHands public service announcement—available in English and Spanish. The short videos describe the five key steps of proper handwashing: wet, lather, scrub well, rinse, and dry thoroughly. When done properly, handwashing should take about 20 seconds, roughly the time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends frequent handwashing, especially when eating or preparing food, cleaning a wound or caring for someone who is sick, using the toilet or changing diapers, or touching or feeding a pet. During the current pandemic, it is also important to wash hands after being out in public, touching surfaces that may have been used by others, such as shopping carts, gas pumps, or electronic payment screens.

If soap and water are not available, CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. In healthcare settings, alcohol-based hand sanitizer is often the preferred method for cleaning hands that are not visibly dirty because it is effective at killing germs that can cause disease (or illness), is easier to use during the course of care, and is less irritating to the skin.

Although the current pandemic is certainly putting a strain on individuals, families, businesses, healthcare professionals, and the entire healthcare system, it is also generating a spirit of unity and a sense of appreciation for the monumental work being done by healthcare professionals across the globe to keep us all safe and healthy. While a vaccine is not yet available to combat the pandemic, hand hygiene is a key prevention tool that is already in our hands!

On World Hand Hygiene Day, and every day, one of the most important things we can all do to help prevent the spread of disease is to properly wash our hands. Remember, #CleanHandsCount!

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