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Do You Know How To Wash Your Hands?

Pop quiz:  How long do you wash your hands for?

I recently came across several sources that answer that question.

The real question, to be fair, should be: “How long does soap stay on your hands while you are washing them?”

What do you honestly think? Two seconds? Five? Ten?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the answer should be 20 seconds.

The CDC website suggests this technique to wash your hands with soap and water:

* Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available.
* Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces.
* Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds. Need a timer? Imagine singing "Happy Birthday" twice.
* Rinse hands well under running water
* Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer.
* If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet

Our colleagues at the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians suggest a very similar procedure on their website:

* Wet hands with running water
* Place soap in palms
* Rub hands together to make a lather
* Scrub hands vigorously for 20 seconds
* Rinse soap off hands
* Dry hands with disposable towel
* Turn off faucet using the disposable towel as a barrier

OK, so now you know how to do it.  Our good friends at the CDC also comment on when we should you wash our hands.  This includes:

* Before preparing or eating food
* After going to the bathroom
* After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has gone to the bathroom
* Before and after tending to someone who is sick
* After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
* After handling an animal or animal waste
* After handling garbage
* Before and after treating a cut or wound

Clearly, we as veterinarians should also wash our hands between seeing patients. And of course, technicians should wash their hands between treating patients.

It’s an easy way to decrease the risk of spreading infectious and contagious diseases.

Just around the time I was thinking about these profound thoughts, I went to a coffee shop to meet a colleague.

Imagine my surprise when I went to wash my hand in the bathroom and discovered the sticker shown on the picture!  In fact, you may be able to see the same one at your local branch of the same coffee shop.  Let’s just say that it is a very popular, nationwide chain based in Seattle.

Do the test. Time yourself, or have someone time you, next time you wash your hands. Sing along. Or use the alphabet trick.

Think it’s silly or childish?  Anything that might prevent spreading nosocomial (i.e., hospital acquired) infections, such as MRSA, is neither silly nor childish.

It’s cheap, it’s simple and it’s common sense.

Twenty seconds.

You owe it to your patients.


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