March 7th, 2012
By Jennifer Olin, BSN, RN
On July 27, 2012, the International Olympic Games will kick off in London, England. Over 10,000 athletes from over 200 countries will take part. The purposes of the Olympic Games are to foster the ideal of a "sound mind in a sound body" and to promote friendship among nations. But they might not appear so friendly this time around.
The British Olympic Association has announced that athletes representing Great Britain (GB) have been told not to shake hands before or during the Olympic Games in order to prevent illness. This suggestion comes from the British Olympic Association (BOA) who does not want to see its country’s Olympic dreams sidelined by colds and the like. According to Dr. Ian McCurdie, the BOA chief, even a mild illness could knock athletes off their stride; hamper them from performing at their peak.
"Within reason if you do and have to shake hands with people, so long as you understand that regular hand washing and/or also using hand foam can help reduce the risk—that would be a good point,” McCurdie said. While this seems sort of unsportsmanlike, McCurdie does make a valid point.
Contaminated hands are a prime cause of cross infection. The most important and most basic technique in preventing and controlling transmission of infections is hand hygiene. And it’s not just athletes who need to be taking care.
Hand Hygiene and Healthcare
Nurses and all people working in healthcare should be hand hygiene junkies. Any one of us, patient or care provider, may be harboring microorganisms that are currently harmless to the host but potentially harmful to another person (or for that matter to ourselves if they find a portal of entry).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
The CDC notes that washing times of at least 10 to 15 seconds will remove transient microorganisms from the skin. If the hands are visibly soiled, more time may be needed. Routine hand washing may be performed with plain soap. Plain soap and water can physically remove a certain level of microbes, but antiseptic agents are necessary to kill or inhibit microorganisms and reduce the level further.
The use of alcohol-based waterless antiseptics is recommended to improve hand hygiene practices, protect healthcare worker’s hands, and reduce transmission of pathogens to patients and personnel in health care settings. Alcohols have excellent germicidal activity and are more effective than either plain soap or antimicrobial soap and water.
And the Surveys Say:
It’s not just patients that bring us in contact with contaminants every day in the healthcare setting. We can make ourselves, and our clients sick or sicker just going about our normal day in any hospital, clinic, or other healthcare setting. Kimberly-Clark Professional, a unit of the personal hygiene giant Kimberly-Clark Corp. ran a survey last year naming the dirtiest everyday public objects with which we come in contact.
Testers drew more than 350 swabs from surfaces in U.S. cities including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and Philadelphia, and analyzed them for levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which signals the presence of animal, vegetable, bacteria, yeast or mold cells. Everyday objects with an ATP reading of 300 or higher are considered to have a high risk for illness transmission, researchers said.
Topping out the list of filthy things we touch every day were:
Most of these can be found in and around every healthcare building. And this list doesn’t’ even include the other things we don’t think about but know are dirty like money, light switches, and computer keyboards.
In 2009, the CDC released a report which included a range of estimates for the annual direct hospital cost of treating healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in the United States. The overall costs to U.S. hospitals ranged from 28.4 to 33.8 billion dollars. One study found that hand hygiene compliance rates in health care facilities were frighteningly low. The baseline for intensive care units (ICUs) was 26 percent and 36 percent for non-ICUs. After 12 months of measuring product usage and providing feedback, compliance increased to 37 percent for ICUs and 51 percent for non-ICUs.
Hand washing is the bottom line in preventing the spread of infection in healthcare facilities. It also affects the bottom line of every healthcare institution. In 2008, Medicare announced it would no longer pay hospitals for the cost of treating patients with nosocomial or hospital-acquired infections. Now, states and many private insurers follow the same guidelines. Not washing your hands when taking care of patients could cost you your paycheck.
Over and over again we hear it. Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent transmission of infections. There are posters and videos and step-by-step instructions available everywhere on how to properly wash hands. It is not a passing fad. If we are going to be healthy and help our patients to regain health we must practice good hand hygiene.