Red Cross sings the praises of handwashing

01 December 2003

Fighting disease hand to hand: (From left) Dr Andrew Whitelaw, Dr Annette Sohn and Sister Charmaine Rinquist are making sure health care practitioners at Red Cross Hospital are giving their hands a decent scrub

When bacteria are passed on from one patient to another in a hospital, it is usually via the hands of medical staff.

Which is why the infection control team at Red Cross Children's Hospital - Professor Cas Motala, Dr Brian Eley, Dr Andrew Whitelaw, Sister Charmaine Rinquist, as well as Dr Annette Sohn, a visiting fellow in infectious diseases from the University of San Francisco in the United States - has chosen to underpin the importance of handwashing among all health care practitioners in the hospital over the next month. In November, the physicians spearheaded a handwashing campaign as part of "Quality of Care" month at Red Cross.

According to the team, meticulous handwashing is by far the best way to prevent the spread of pathogenic bacteria in hospitals. Yet, handwashing is often neglected, partly because some believe that infection can always be treated with a dose or two of antibiotics (not quite true, as organisms can in time develop resistance to antibiotics), partly because hospital personnel are often so rushed that they omit to do so.

"I think everyone knows how important it is to wash their hands - it's always at the back of their minds," said Whitelaw. "Occasionally, however, they slip."

But even a quick wash with soap and water or an application of a waterless hand hygiene product will do the job most of the time (not when scrubbing up for surgery, of course), he added.

The Red Cross campaign springs in part from a talk that team member Sohn recently gave to hospital staff on the importance of infection control, in which she shared her experiences of a similar project - Hand Hygiene Saves Lives - run by the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with American hospitals.

"Hand hygiene is the foundation of infection control," said Sohn. "And infection control is part of the infrastructure of quality care."

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