Using our hands as we work is one of the most common ways to spread deadly microorganisms, especially if we relax on the golden rules of hand hygiene. Even with frequent campaigns that promote handwashing, caregivers sometimes become complacent and skip this very important procedure.
Covid-19, the novel disease that caused the ongoing pandemic, is very contagious but there are several ways that are proven effective in reducing the rate of infection. One is through hand hygiene. Yes, it cannot be stressed enough that frequent cleaning of the hands is essential in curbing the infection, which in turn, can save lives.
Since the first case of Covid-19 in the US earlier this year, health organizations have been particularly strict with hand hygiene protocols. This most stringent requirement is necessary because SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is primarily spread through small droplets that come out of the patient's lungs and nasal passages as they breathe, sneeze, or cough. These droplets stick to surfaces and thrive for hours and even days. Infected individuals can also spread the virus as they unknowingly touch their faces, or cover their mouths when they cough and sneeze and then proceed to handle surfaces as they go about their day. In both cases, SARS-CoV-2 gets transmitted from person to person and the cycle of infection continues.
There are two ways to practice hand hygiene as a caregiver. One is through thorough handwashing using soap and water. Here are some FAQs for you:
1. Why is handwashing effective in reducing the spread of SARS-CoV-2?
Using soap, scrubbing the hands, and rinsing with running water kills and physically removes the microorganisms.
2. Do we need antibacterial soap for handwashing?
No. Any soap will do. Remember that SARS-CoV-2 is a virus and its fatty coating is easily destroyed by the grease-cutting properties of soap.
3. Do we wash with hot or cold water?
The temperature of water for washing and rinsing is not much of an issue. What is more important is how the hands are washed. For thorough cleaning, all surfaces including the palms, between fingers and the fingertips, the back of the hands, and the areas beyond the wrists must be scrubbed and then rinsed with running water. The procedure for proper handwashing takes about 20-30 seconds. If it took less than 20 seconds to clean your hands, it only means you missed some spots or did not effectively remove microorganisms. After washing, use a tissue paper to turn off the tap and dispose of the used tissue properly in the trash.
4. Is it important to dry the hands after washing?
Yes. Microorganisms thrive better in moist places, so drying the hands with a paper towel is important.
5. How often should I wash my hands?
Frequency depends on what you intend to do. The better question to ask is when to clean your hands. Perform handwashing before and after patient care procedures. No touching of the face and nose during this time, too. Do it also upon entering your workstation and immediately upon going home. We wary of coming in contact with high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs and other handles, the toilet flush, bed rails, bed frames, moveable lamps; meal trays, bedside table, equipment such as blood-pressure cuffs, handphones, and money.
6. If handwashing is too inconvenient, what else can I do to practice hand hygiene?
The other way of maintaining hand hygiene is through the use of hand sanitizers, so always have one to carry with you. As an alternative, you can also use 70% isopropyl or ethyl alcohol. Scrub the sanitizer or alcohol thoroughly all over your hands and allow to air-dry. Do not use a paper towel to dry.
If you are providing direct patient care, always strictly follow institutional policies on hand hygiene especially when using personal protective equipment.
The effects of Covid-19 on the nation is devastating, but the world will keep on turning no matter what. For this stark reality, front-liners like caregivers must do whatever it takes to carry on helping patients while protecting themselves against this novel disease.
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