October 15 is Global Handwashing Day – an important reminder that one of the most powerful tools for maintaining our health is also one of the simplest.
Handwashing has been proven to be one of our best lines of defense against infection and disease since 1847–the year that Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, the “Father of Hand Hygiene,” discovered that handwashing dramatically decreased the rate of fatalities in his maternity ward. Decades later, William Goodman, MD, MPH, Regional Chief Medical Officer for Steward’s North Market Massachusetts and Saima Abbas, MD, Physician at Rockledge Regional Medical Center, say that maintaining proper hand hygiene has never been more important.
Simply put: “It saves lives,” said Dr. Abbas.
However, despite hand soap and sanitizers flying off the shelves during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have maintained bad habits when it comes to hand hygiene. Like it or not, germs are everywhere. They are found on almost all items we touch, like phones, elevator buttons, and handrails. Although using hand sanitizer is effective in combating sickness, Dr. Goodman believes soap and water shouldn’t be underestimated: “There are certain types of infectious agents, particularly fungal spores, that can only be eliminated by water,” he said.
The timing of when we practice hand hygiene is also an important weapon for stopping the chain of transmission. Having worked on the frontlines of the pandemic, Steward physicians know exactly how quickly illnesses can spread, and make sure to practice hand hygiene after 5 crucial moments:
- Before touching a patient
- Before clean/aseptic procedures
- After body fluid exposure
- After touching a patient, and
- After touching patient surroundings
There are many different ways to disinfect your hands, and according to Dr. Goodman and Dr. Abbas, they are all important. Both washing our hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer are effective ways of stopping the spread of germs. The biggest difference?
“I think it’s the convenience of [hand sanitizer],” said Dr. Abbas. “In the pandemic, hand washing was literally not possible in so many settings. You can have your hand sanitizer in your hand. That is the difference.”
Global Handwashing Day is our call to ensure better health outcomes for ourselves and our loved ones by practicing proper hand hygiene. Regularly encouraging his own patients to practice hand hygiene, Dr. Goodman emphasized, “It’s important to highlight the tremendous importance of a simple activity that we often overlook and take for granted.”
If you have questions about hand hygiene, Steward Health Care is here to help. Join us in celebrating Global Handwashing Day, and call your local Steward hospital to learn more.
To find a doctor or schedule an appointment, visit Steward DoctorFinder™.