In talking about handwashing steps, we often refer to guidelines from both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The recommendations from each organization are similar, but not identical. Is there a best method?
CDC instructions are, essentially, to soap up, scrub, and rinse, a process which takes around 35 seconds. To remember how long it should take, you can sing the alphabet song twice (how loudly you sing is completely up to you).
Image compliments of WHO
WHO recommendations are more involved, with specific steps, totaling about 42.5 seconds.
Researchers at the Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland studied 42 doctors and 78 nurses who used either the CDC or WHO techniques. Results of this study indicate the WHO method to have a slight edge when it comes to reducing average bacterial count on the hands of medical workers. Even so, it’s important to note that BOTH methods work very well and are effective at reducing the spread of germs.
Whether you’re a health worker, a food handler, a teacher, or someone reading this on a handheld device, it’s important to know you should wash your hands to help keep yourself and those around you healthy. Always get your hands wet first (don’t put soap on dry hands), and wash often.
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The World Health Organization (WHO) has included an easy strategy for hand hygiene improvement in the WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care (Advanced Draft). My 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene defines key moments when health care workers ought to be engaging in hand hygiene.
Image courtesy of WHO:
Using this model, health care workers are reminded to clean their hands at the following times:
- Before touching a patient
- Before clean/aseptic procedures
- After body fluid exposure or risk
- After touching a patient
- After touching patient surroundings
Though the instruction may seem like a review of basic principles, it helps overcome misleading language and complicated descriptions. Easy to learn, logical, and widely applicable, My 5 Moments serves as a reminder of one of the most important things any health care worker can do to protect themselves and others from infection: practice proper hand hygiene.
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Have you ever noticed someone exiting a restroom while shaking their wet hands? Is drying your hands important after you wash your hands? Maybe you’ve done it, too– you’ve taken the time to properly wash, but you’re in a hurry, and don’t want to take the extra time to get paper towels or stand near an air dryer.
Hand drying is an important part of hand hygiene, and shouldn’t be skipped. The reason is simple: germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands than dry hands.
Which method, then, should you choose? Should you dry your hands with towels (paper or otherwise), or use an air dryer? There isn’t conclusive research on this topic, as most studies compare residual microbes (not just germs) remaining on hands following different drying methods. Microbes are tiny living organisms which may or may not cause disease, and it has not been proven that removing microbes from hands is linked to better health.
What is clear, however, is the point that using a clean towel or air drying hands is the proper final step in effective hand-washing. So the next time you’re tempted to shake your hands dry or rub your hands on your clothes, pause and take the 60 seconds or so needed to face the world with clean, dry hands.
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Show me the science handwashing (cdc.gov)