Washing Away Disease

Ahead of World Hand Hygiene Day,experts emphasise the importance of washing hands to keep infections away

Written by EXPRESS FEATURES SERVICE | Published: May 1, 2013 11:53:15 pm

Ahead of World Hand Hygiene Day,experts emphasise the importance of washing hands to keep infections away

Everyone will have some memory of their parents telling them to wash their hands after playing or before meals,insisting upon it until it became a habit. As irritating as it might have been,thank goodness for all those lectures. Experts who are gearing up to celebrate World Hand Hygiene Day on May 5 say hand washing may be the single most important and effective way to prevent illness and infection.

The importance of hand hygiene in infection control was first pointed out by Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmerweis in 1847. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also identified hand washing as an important means of spreading infection. Hands normally have a resident population of micro-organisms. Other micro-organisms (germs) are picked up during everyday activities,and these are termed as transient organisms. Millions of germs are carried on our hands,most of which are harmless,but some may cause colds,flu,skin infections or diarrhea. Not washing hands can spread these germs either to other people or we can infect ourselves by touching our eyes,mouths or open cuts.

Hand washing aims at removing these transient organisms before they are transferred to surfaces,another patient or to a susceptible area on the same patient. That is why the World Health Organisation (WHO),CDC and other health organisations celebrate World Hand Hygiene Day,to encourage healthcare providers to promote and practise good hand hygiene measures to reduce the risk of infection in patients.

“A critical factor in transmission of the bacteria and viruses that cause infections in the community is poor habits of hand washing. Keeping hands clean is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infection and illness,” says Dr Sanjay Lalwani,medical director of Bharati Vidyapeeth Medical College and Hospitals,where the special day will be marked by several events till May 4. Lectures for nurses,doctors,quizzes,poster competitions and skits are a few of the activities being organised for the occasion.

He adds that people receiving health care may be more vulnerable to infection from germs carried on their hands or by other people,as their immunity is low. Moreover,they are already suffering from some illness at the time,which makes them more vulnerable to cross infections.

The global spread of multi-drug resistant infections in health care set-ups has made the situation even worse. In the healthcare setting,hand washing is often cited as the primary weapon in the infection control arsenal.

The purpose of hand washing in the healthcare setting and clinics is microbial reduction in an effort to decrease the risk of nosocomial infections.

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