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Handwashing Tips to Prevent Infection

Handwashing Tips to Help You Prevent Infection from Spreading

This is part of a series about maintaining a clean and healthy environment in eldercare (but it’s great advice for anybody!) In today’s article, we will discuss infectious diseases spread by skin, and how you can use handwashing as an effective infection control procedure.

Infectious diseases spread by skin

Some germs live on the skin. These include head lice and scabies. What are they?  Well, head lice are parasitic insects that live on a person’s scalp and hide in their hair.  Scabies is a contagious skin disease caused by a type of small bug called an itch mite.  People in group settings such as nursing homes are very likely to get these diseases, especially scabies.   So in order to keep scabies from spreading, oftentimes all affected family members need to be treated at once, even if they’re not feeling itchy at the time.  Their symptoms could appear much later if not treated, and they could also spread the disease to someone else!

Tips to Prevent Infection

Here are some additional tips you can use to prevent infection in the event that you come in contact with an infectious disease:
  • Keep yourself healthy
  • Keep up to date on Immunizations
  • Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • Stay home and rest when you are too ill to give someone else care.  That is very important since illness can affect your ability to do your job on top of being very likely to spread disease

Infection Control Procedures

Hand Hygiene

Hand hygiene (which includes handwashing and cleaning hands with antiseptic cleansers) plays a critical role in the spread of infectious diseases, even in an older adult’s own home. In fact, the most common way that infections are spread are by our hands! The reasons that most people claim that they don’t wash their hands regularly include:
  • causes dryness and irritation
  • sinks are not located in an easy space to get to
  • lack of soap or towels
  • simply too busy, or not not enough time
  • needs of the older adult are much more of a priority
  • belief that there is a low risk of catching an infection from the older adult
You should know that these are NOT good excuses!  Most germs are very easy to pass on.  By avoiding proper infection control, you are risking the safety of the older adult.

Proper Handwashing Technique

What should you use to clean your hands?
  • When hands are visibly dirty, contaminated or soiled, wash with soap and warm water. Either plain soap or antimicrobial soap work well.
  • If hands are not visibly soiled, use an alcohol based handrub for routinely decontaminating hands. Application is key – LET IT DRY! There is a “kill time” that refers to disinfectants – this is the time needed for the product to make contact with the surface being cleaned and remain wet. It is dependent on the microorganisms and also the manufacturer. Often handrubs may cause dry skin – it’s helpful to have moisturizer available, especially in the winter.
When should you wash your hands?
  • Before and after contact with the older adult’s skin, particularly if there are broken areas of skin
  • After contact with body fluids or excretions, wounds or wound dressings (whether or not gloves are worn)
  • After assisting the older adult with toileting or changing incontinence products
  • After you go to the restroom
  • Before preparing food
  • After wiping nose, sneezing or touching your face
  • When hands are visibly soiled
It may be necessary to perform hand hygiene between tasks and procedures on the same older adult to prevent cross-contamination of different body sites.

How do you properly clean your hands?

To correctly use a hand rub, you should:
  • apply it to the palm of one hand, rub hands together covering all surfaces until dry
  • the amount varies by manufacturer, but it is usually about 1 tablespoon (??)
For proper handwashing you should:
  • Get soap and towel before beginning; roll up sleeves
  • Take off your jewelry
  • Stand back from the sink
  • Clothes and hands should not touch the sink.
  • Turn on the water with a towel
  • Water should be warm but not hot
  • Wet hands. Fingertips point down.
  • Put liquid soap on hands and wrists.
  • Rub hands, fingers, and wrists. Rubbing helps loosen bacteria and dirt. Also, make sure to clean between fingers.
  • Rub hands under the water for at least 30 seconds (Sing “Happy Birthday” twice )
  • Dry hands with a clean towel. Do not shake water off hands.
  • Turn off the water with the towel
  • Don’t touch the sink, faucet, surfaces or doorknobs with hands after washing. This will re-contaminate your clean hands.
  • Put the towel in the hamper or laundry for cleaning
For Fingernail Hygiene
  • Keep fingernails short (¼ inch or shorter)
  • Artificial nails should not be worn when taking care of older adults

 Additional Tips to Keep Hands Clean

  • keep a pocket-sized container of alcohol-based handrub on you
  • place alcohol-based handrubs in the older adult’s bedroom and bathroom
  • remember that alcohol is flammable so store these handrubs away from high temperatures or flames
There are several important things you can do when taking care of other people in order to help prevent infection from spreading – handwashing is easy and essential.  

Become certified as a professional eldercare provider. CareAcadey offers a specialized class in how to Maintain a Clean and Healthy Environment.

Dr. Reddy is a specialist in Internal Medicine & Geriatric Medicine. She holds appointments at Harvard Medical School & Hebrew SeniorLife in Boston, MA. She has seen the struggles that families and caregivers go through when caring for adults. Through CareAcademy, she intends to improve people's lives. Dr. Reddy's research is published as journal articles and book chapters. She has also authored a book for family caregivers.

Madhuri ReddyHandwashing Tips to Prevent Infection

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