It goes without saying that hospitals are a harbinger of all sorts of germs. From the common flu virus to the potentially fatal C. difficile, germs are brought into hospitals by sick people. If hospitals aren’t careful, those germs can easily be spread. That’s why there is so much emphasis on hygienically clean linens and uniforms these days.
Newly developed standards for hygienically clean linens represent a good step forward for the healthcare industry. Alsco, a commercial laundry provider and one of the driving forces behind those standards, explains that hygienically clean linens are certified as being free of all contaminants, including dangerous pathogens. Alsco says they represent just one aspect of addressing the spread of germs in hospitals.
Another important aspect is promoting better hand hygiene. For example, hand washing is as important to stopping the spread of germs as laundering linens and hospital gowns to hygienically clean standards. It is believed by some that regular hand washing is by far the most effective means of stopping the spread of germs.
Not Enough Hand Washing
We just assume that health professionals engage in routine hand washing to protect themselves and their patients. But according to the American Hospital Association (AHA), poor hand hygiene is a big problem at U.S. healthcare facilities. They cite 10 reasons for poor hygiene including lack of accountability, ineffective placement of sinks and dispensers, insufficient education, and distractions.
Regardless of the causes, the AHA makes it clear that we can do a better job of practicing good hand hygiene in our hospitals and health clinics. They are backed up by a CDC report that suggests healthcare workers wash their hands upwards of 50% less than they really should.
What does it all mean? It means that healthcare workers are not engaging in enough hand washing. It is up to healthcare facilities to figure out why so that they can implement strategies to change things. If we can improve how often workers wash their hands, we can further reduce the spread of germs.
Hand Sanitizer May Not Be Enough
Alsco points out that in our push to get healthcare workers to wash their hands more often, using hand sanitizer may not be enough. They point to a recent study cited by OSHA that shows how comparatively ineffective hand sanitizer is in combating the flu virus.
The results of that study clearly show that just running one’s hands under warm water while rubbing them together is more effective against the flu virus than hand sanitizer. It is more effective even without the use of soap. Throw in that soap and hand washing is clearly superior to sanitizer for fighting the flu virus.
Could the same be true for other germs as well? It’s possible. No one can be sure until comprehensive research is conducted. However, if the mechanism uncovered by the OSHA-cited study applies to other germs, it could very well be that hand sanitizer isn’t as effective as we think.
For the record, all of us should practice regular hand washing. Workers in the healthcare industry should be even more diligent by washing their hands in all the following scenarios:
- Before making physical contact with patients
- Prior to beginning any medical procedure
- Following exposure to any bodily fluids
- After making physical contact with a patient
- After touching anything a patient has come in contact with.
The five scenarios described above all come from the World Health Organization (WHO). Although adhering to WHO standards could mean an awful lot of hand washing, it’s better than the alternative.