Advice for International Infection Prevention Week (IIPW) 14th – 20th October
If you were told that doing one simple (and free) thing could save you, your family and your co-workers from becoming ill wouldn’t you jump at the opportunity? Well you can – the simplest way of reducing the spread of infections such as tummy bugs, coughs, colds, and even superbugs is to wash your hands PROPERLY. At home we can do that using soap and water and in our healthcare settings we also have alcohol gel which is accessible in all areas.
International Infection Prevention Week 14th – 20th October takes place around the world to highlight how we can protect our health through reducing infection. Healthcare workers are trained to follow good hand hygiene practice but it is important for everyone to realise how vital proper hand washing is. Good hand hygiene involves following simple steps every time we wash our hands to ensure that all parts of the hands are clean. Have a look at the video on proper hand washing.
Professor Martin Cormican, HSE National Lead for Antibiotic Resistance says, “Surfaces that look clean often have billions of bacteria and viruses so you can pick them up from touching most surfaces. International studies have shown faecal contamination is found on a wide variety of surfaces including bank notes, bar snacks, shopping bags, computer keyboards, mobile phones, wrist bands, ice cubes, kitchen taps, cleaning cloths and surfaces in your kitchen. So you can see why it is really important that you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and then dry them on a clean towel. We often think we have washed our hands properly but have a look at this short experiment and you will be surprised”.
Dr Nuala O’Connor GP says, “Don’t forget to teach your children the important life skill of hand washing. Many of the patients I see every day could have stopped the spread of infection by washing their hands and not touching their hands to their face. We should all actively promote effective hand washing with our children at home, in our schools and crèches to reduce the chance of infections being spread.”
Some tips for stopping infections spreading at home are listed below – you should try to make a habit of washing your hands regularly during the day. The goal is to find a good balance between keeping your hands clean when it’s most important without limiting your enjoyment of life. Particularly important times to wash your hand are:
- When you have been in contact with a person or an animal with an infection
- When you get back to your home from being out and about or at work, especially if your work involves a lot of contact with people or animals
- Before starting to prepare or handle food
- After touching raw meat including poultry
- Before eating food
- After using the toilet and after changing nappies
HSE National Press Office
Previous international studies have shown faecal contamination on a wide variety of surfaces including:
- bank notes
- kitchen taps
- cleaning cloths
- bar snacks
- shopping bag
- computer keyboards
- mobile phones
- wrist bands
- ice cubes
- preparation surfaces in mobile kitchens
Get more information
There are lots of tips on hand hygiene on www.hse.ie/hcai and you can learn all about bacteria on www.ebug.eu a teaching/ learning resource for schools and colleges (and parents!). On eBug you can find out about bugs through quizzes, games and home science experiments. Try them out – you’ll be surprised.
What can you do to protect yourself?
Have a read of our top tips and hand hygiene to protect yourself and your family:
– When you wake up in the morning don’t rub your eyes…
According to a study by the Washington University School of Medicine, in a sample of bed sheets examined 18% were found to be contaminated by strains of Staphylococcus aureus. This is a bacterium that can cause a number of diseases. It means there is a significant risk that our hands will have a high amount of bacteria on them when we wake up in the morning. So the best thing to do is avoid rubbing your eyes and go straight to the bathroom to wash your face.
–On the way to the office….
Public transport is where we all mingle a little bit too closely sometimes on busy buses, trains, the Dart or Luas. Germs have the opportunity to be spread. The handrails, seats and touchscreen where we purchase tickets have thousands of billions of microbes. But Harvard research indicates they are not actually dangerous for humans. Holding on to handrails is about the same as shaking someone’s hand. But when you reach the office, make sure to wash your hands before starting work or grabbing some breakfast.
– Working in the office? Be wary of the technology…
Computers, phones and mobiles are a constant in our office environment, we can’t work without them. But how clean are they? Research has shown that PCs, keyboards, phones are full of bacteria – a mouse has an average of 260 bacteria per centimetre squared, a keyboard has 511 and the mouthpiece of a telephone has an impressive 3,895! Make sure you clean your tech equipment. They are actually worse than a toilet seat which has 8 bacteria per cm2!
– The toilet is usually fine – but watch out for the handles, taps and air hand dryers…
The real danger is not the toilet but the handles and taps. Don’t touch the toilet seat with your hands if it’s visibly dirty. Our skin acts as a protective barrier when we use the toilet – it is the largest organ in the human body. Drying your hands with paper towel will reduce the bacterial count by 45 – 60% on your hands. However, using a hand dryer will increase the bacteria on your hands by up to 255% because it blows out bacteria already living in the, conveniently, warm moist environment.