The effectiveness and importance of hand washing in infection control cannot be overstated. This relatively simple measure is vastly underutilized and underappreciated by the general public. It does not employ the latest health-care technology or any groundbreaking new research, but it is more effective at preventing the spread of infection than any other activity.
Antibacterial soap is really an industry gimmick that tricks consumers into spending money unnecessarily. It's based on the popular misconception that antibiotics are the cure-all for all illnesses.
A thorough cleansing using regular soap is just as effective at removing dirt and bacteria from the hands as a wash using antibacterial soap. No scientific study has ever demonstrated any advantage of using antibacterial soaps. Don't waste your money on them.
Waterless Hand Cleansers
These types of alcohol-based hand cleansers have become popular in recent years, and the general consensus in the scientific and medical community is that these are quite effective in preventing the transmission of germs. In fact, this is the rationale behind the practice of wiping down the skin with an alcohol swab prior to injections.
An alcohol-based hand sanitizer is an acceptable alternative to washing the hands with regular soap and water. Waterless sanitizer is especially useful in situations where a running water source is unavailable. Even though these cleansers are very effective in killing germs on the surface of the hands, they are not optimal for removing grease or other stains. For these occasions, regular soap and water is still the way to go.
Proper Hand-Washing Technique
Even when hand washing is appropriately employed as an infection control measure, it is often done incorrectly. The most important aspect of hand washing is not to use generous amounts of soap. The secret lies in the vigorous and meticulous scrubbing. Every surface of the hands must be scrubbed in order to achieve maximum cleanliness.
The human hand has a complex geometry. It has all sorts of nooks and crannies that allow incredible dexterity, yet this very same shape makes thorough cleaning challenging. The trick in washing the entire surface of the hands is to treat each finger and the whole hand as having four sides. In addition, the fingers have an additional side — the tips. To clean each side, you must enthusiastically scrub it back and forth at least five times.
In a perfect world, your toddler would stand completely still while you washed her hands, but that's seldom the case. Do your best to thoroughly clean the hands of your squirming child. It may be tempting to hastily wet the hands under running water and call it a day, but doing so risks getting your child and yourself sick.
Start with the thumb, scrub each of the four sides, and proceed to the index finger. Work your way across until you have scrubbed all fingers of both hands. After that, scrub the fingertips. Finally, scrub the four sides of the entire hand, treating it as a rectangular block. If you follow these instructions correctly, it should take approximately thirty seconds to wash one hand, so it should take almost an entire minute to thoroughly clean both hands.
Cutting corners and performing a cursory hand wash risks missing a part of the hands, and this little crevice may just be the haven for the next virulent strain of drug-resistant bacteria. Keep this possibility in mind every time you wash your hands, and your children's hands, and you'll automatically be a conscientious hand washer.