Life and Death Hand Washing and Hygiene

I wish I was being dramatic for effect, but it’s the truth. In medical facilities, nursing homes, schools, fitness centers, and anywhere where people are often sick and exposed to each other for extended periods of time, good hand washing, hygiene, and surface disinfection can mean life or death.

small_5321247830In hospitals in the United States, according to the CDC, there are roughly 1.7 million hospital acquired infections (HAI) per year, of which 99,000 deaths are attributed to these infections. That means 99,000 people died with something they contracted in the hospital. These are truly needless deaths that could have been avoided by proper surface cleaning and disinfection, proper hand washing and hygiene, and proper medical equipment sanitizing and treatment.

Most HAIs are urinary tract, surgical site, bloodstream, and pneumonia infections. This equates to extra medical expenses, extra days in the hospital, extra medications, and 5.8% of the time, death.

What You Can Do To Protect Yourself And Your Loved Ones

1. Know your rights and the medical facility’s rules.

Most hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, etc. have rules for all health care workers.

  • They must wash their hands using anti-bacterial soap and water or an alcohol based handrub before and after interacting with a patient
  • They must do so where the patient can see them
  • They must do so before donning gloves and after removing gloves
  • They cannot enter the room wearing gloves

All visitors are strongly advised to do the same.

2. Speak Up

Most patients and family members are resistant to ask health care workers to wash their hands, especially doctors. Who can blame them, especially if the health care worker seems like they are in a hurry or not concerned for your well-being.

There are a few options:

  • Find a health care worker in your wing that seems helpful and caring and ask for their advice, without mentioning names, on how to best get everyone to wash their hands.
  • Where a button or name tag requesting hand washing before being touched or worked on. Some hospitals will provide you with one.

The bottom line is, would you rather the hospital worker possibly getting annoyed with you or spending a few extra days in the hospital because you said nothing.

There are some wonderful organizations working to minimize the Hospital Acquired Infection problem, like the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, headquartered in Massachusetts. Research the statistics for the HAIs in the facility you or your family member might be in to better know the risks.

Please add to the conversation or give other tips to help protect yourself when you are in any medical facility.

Photo by NIAID

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