Expert Health Articles

Hand Hygiene

Proper hand hygiene is the number one way to prevent the spread of infection, any time of the year. This is particularly important during winter months. According to the Ohio Department of Health, this flu season alone, there have been over 5,400 influenza-related hospitalizations in Ohio. You can take measures to prevent illness at any time of the year by taking the following minimum measures every day:

  • Wash your hands
    • Before and after preparing food or eating
    • After using the restroom
    • After touching garbage
    • After coughing or blowing your nose
    • After touching a pet, pet food or pet waste
    • After changing a diaper or helping a child at the toilet
  • Practice respiratory etiquette
    • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze – in public AND at home
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth or licking your fingers
  • If you or someone else at home is sick, clean or disinfect frequently touched surfaces

The CDC recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds and ensuring to scrub all surfaces including palms, under fingernails, backs of hands, wrists and between fingers.

Thoroughly drying hands (preferably with a disposable paper towel) is essential to proper hand hygiene, as wet hands more easily transmit bacteria and viruses. In a public setting, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door.

Hand sanitizer is acceptable according to CDC standards in instances where hands are not visibly soiled with dirt, food or body fluids. Hand sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol and be rubbed until dry to be most effective.

Remember, when practicing hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, you are not only protecting yourself, you are taking measures to protect others. Pregnant women, infants, and those with chronic health conditions and weakened immune systems are especially at risk for illness. These illnesses can be spread anywhere – at the gas pump, the grocery store, and even doctor’s offices or hospitals.

In a healthcare setting, while all healthcare workers are highly trained on infection prevention, it is acceptable to ask or remind healthcare workers to wash their hands. It is your right as a patient to speak up and advocate for your care. At a minimum, healthcare workers should wash their hands upon entering and exiting the room and before and after they touch you. You can also take the following precautions to protect yourself in a hospital setting:

  • Sneeze and cough into your elbow, not your hand.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing frequently.
  • If your room appears dirty, ask for it to be cleaned.
  • If you are having surgery, ask if you should shower beforehand with antibacterial soap.
  • Clean your hands and make sure everyone around you does, too (visitors included).
  • If you have a catheter, ask daily if you still need one.
  • Take medications as directed.
  • Ask staff about safe needle practices (One Needle, One Syringe, One Time).

This time of the year especially, it is truly a community effort to prevent the spread of disease. In addition to proper nutrition, sleep and staying active, it is our personal responsibility to stay home when sick, avoid close contact with those who are ill, and most importantly, wash our hands. We can all take our part to ensure we all stay as healthy as possible!


Hannah Plumley, BS, MPH candidate Kent State University

Working under the supervision of:

 Colleen Abrams, Infection Preventionist, Blanchard Valley Health System