April 22, 2020 3 min read

Updated May 2024: We are pleased to report that hand hygiene has improved considerably since this blog was written, although there is still room for improvement.

Image source: Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (2024)

 


People are not washing their hands as well as they should and some healthcare workers aren’t washing them at all!

Giving a whole new take to the saying, “young, wild and free” a new study has found that almost a third of young Australians under 25 are not washing their hands properly, with over 50% acknowledging that they don’t scrub even before they handle food.

Hand hygiene has been identified as the most effective way to reduce the transmission of viral diseases, such as norovirus (gastro) and COVID-19.

Startlingly, research found that when hospital personnel, such as doctors and nurses, were not being monitored, compliance to hand hygiene practice dropped from 94% to just 30%, a finding that is incredibly concerning for health facilities and patients alike. Lack of time, non-habitual washing and limited knowledge were the main reasons underpinning non-compliance of the hand washing policy, reiterating just how important it is for people to understand the risk they pose to others simply by not washing their hands properly.

Watch this short video clip from Channel 10's We Have a Problem to see just how much bacteria can grow after one toilet visit. The primary bacteria found after a toilet visit was E. coli, which can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, stomach pain, fever and sometimes vomiting. E. coli and other similar types of germs can be transmitted after a toilet visit but also through other means such as changing a nappy or handling raw meats that may have invisible animal faeces on them.

A single gram of human faeces — which is about the weight of a paper clip — can contain one trillion germs, with improper hand washing the primary cause of transmission.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), accessed 1 March 2020.

The key message here is not to leave your health in somebody else’s hands (literally) because you just don’t know how clean they really are. Now is the time to be asking your providers and therapists when they last cleaned the bed, changed the towels, and (properly) washed their hands to avoid the risk of an infection.

There are a lot of messages out there about the importance of washing your hands properly, but what does that really mean?

When should you wash your hands?

The first step is to recognise when you need to wash, with a comprehensive list provided (see below) by the CDC

  • Before, during and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing nappies or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching rubbish

 

What is the proper method to clean your hands?

Warm, soapy water is the best option for washing your hands. Follow these simple tips on good hand hygiene.

 

 

The CDC also states that if soap and running water are not available, a hand sanitiser made of at least 60% alcohol is the next best thing, even though it's not as effective. Ensure your hands are dry and not dirty before applying the gel and make sure you wait 20 seconds after rubbing in the gel before touching anything.

While such a simple task, washing your hands properly is incredibly important to reduce the risk of infection, not only for yourself but for everyone and everything around you. Contact transmission is the quickest way harmful bacteria can move from person to person and cause illness, elevating hand washing to the most important thing you can do to help combat the spread of disease.

Take your health into your own hands and ask about hand hygiene.



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