Man washes his hands Man washes his hands
Global Hand Washing Day 2023

Raising awareness of hand hygiene is still important

Illustration: Three hands touching each other
What is the perfect temperature for hand washing? What does proper hand hygiene look like in healthcare? And what is the role of quality hand disinfectants in improving compliance in hospitals? In this interview, Anja Deecke, Senior Product Manager Hands & Skin from Global Marketing Disinfection at HARTMANN, speaks about Global Hand Washing Day, and explains why we still need to educate people on hand hygiene, even only a couple of years after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regular hand washing with water and soap is a daily habit for many people. Nevertheless, there is still a great need for education on the subject. That's why on October 15th, 2008 the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing (PPPHW) launched the first Global Hand Washing Day. Since then, every year kindergartens, schools, and healthcare centers raise awareness of the importance of hand hygiene. It is also an important issue for HARTMANN. We spoke to Anja Deecke, Senior Product Manager Hands & Skin at HARTMANN, for her answers to crucial questions about hand hygiene.

October 15th is Global Hand Washing Day. Why do we need this global awareness day?

First and foremost, the day is aimed at schools and kindergartens with the intention to introduce children to the topic of hand hygiene and show them how to wash their hands properly and in which situations it is important. However, adults are also part of the target group of Global Hand Washing Day. The education focus is primarily in the healthcare sector, but the aim is to also raise awareness of correct hand hygiene in the private sphere too.

What role does hand washing play in our personal lives?

Hand washing is important in all areas of life – it helps protect us and others from infections. The more people who follow these hygiene measures in their everyday lives, the better for all of us. People should, for example, always wash their hands after going to the toilet and before cooking. It’s also a good action to take after using public transport or disposing of waste.
Woman washes hands at a kitchen sink.

What is the right way to wash your hands?

The most important thing is to not use hot water. Cold or lukewarm is better. That is because the hotter the water, the worse it is for our skin health. In addition, avoid using hard soaps as they attack the skin's natural protective barrier. Instead, it is better to use modern surfactant-based washing lotions. During the washing process, ensure the skin is totally moist and soap it well. In the end, the washing lotion should be gone, and you should dry your hands thoroughly. The whole process should take 20 - 30 seconds, which is roughly as long as it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to yourself twice.

Is it recommended to use hand disinfection at home as well as washing your hands?

In most situations, hand washing alone is perfectly adequate. However, there are exceptions: For example, if you have norovirus and want to protect others around you, or you’re caring for a family member with an immune deficiency. In these cases, hand disinfection makes sense. That said, for the most part, it is usually sufficient to simply wash your hands thoroughly after potential contact with germs in our daily lives.
Anja Deecke
Photo: Anja Deecke
"Hand washing is an integral part of everyday life in healthcare facilities."

And what about the healthcare sector? What are the roles of hand washing and hand disinfection?

Hand washing is enormously important in the healthcare sector and is an integral part of everyday working life in hospitals. For employees, it is clearly stated when they must wash their hands – namely always before the start of a shift and when their hands are visibly soiled. However, hand washing is only one aspect of hand hygiene in the healthcare sector. In many situations, hand disinfection is even more important. The so-called five moments of hand hygiene define exactly when hand disinfection must take place:

  • BEFORE patient contact
  • BEFORE sterile activities
  • AFTER patient contact
  • AFTER contact with the patient's environment
  • AFTER contact with bodily fluids.

So, healthcare workers disinfect their hands significantly more often than washing them?

Exactly. One of the biggest advantages of hand disinfection is that it is much more skin-compatible than washing with water and soap, especially when you need to wash your hands frequently. Every time we wash our hands with water and soap (especially if hard soap is used), the skin's natural protective barrier is attacked, and it needs some time to recover and regenerate. If there is not enough time, as is often the case with healthcare workers who need to follow strict hand hygiene rules, it can quickly lead to skin irritations and inflammation. Hand disinfection, therefore, becomes the default option in most healthcare situations.

Does skin compatibility also depend on the quality of a hand disinfectant?

At Sterillium® we specialize in the healthcare sector. As a result, our effective products contain refatting and care substances that ensure very good skin compatibility when used. During the pandemic, we saw the difference between us and other manufacturers. When supply bottlenecks occurred, hospitals increasingly used hand disinfectants based on the WHO formulation. However, these products are often not particularly skin-friendly because they usually consist almost exclusively of alcohol, water, and glycerine. By comparison, products such as Sterillium®, have been specially developed to be skin-compatible.
Two female nurses disinfect their hands

Is skin compatibility a unique feature of Sterillium®?

Sterillium® has become the generic term for skin-compatible hand disinfection. And there are good reasons for this: Sterillium® has been on the market for decades, and has been continuously improved and developed during this time. Our focus has always been on optimal efficacy, and good skin tolerance. It is this that makes Sterillium® stand out.
Anja Deecke
Photo: Anja Deecke
"It is important to raise awareness about hand hygiene again. After all, bacteria and viruses have not disappeared from our lives."

At the height of the pandemic, there was a lot of discussion about hand hygiene. However, now, awareness seems to be in decline?

That's right. During the pandemic, hand hygiene was very present in many people's minds. However, at some point, a fatigue effect set in. We can see this clearly in both the private sector and in healthcare. In many hospitals, for example, hand hygiene compliance (i.e. the implementation of hand hygiene according to official recommendations) is currently lower than it was before the pandemic, which is why it is so important to raise awareness of hand hygiene again through Global Hand Washing Day. After all, bacteria and viruses have not disappeared from our lives.

Are there any other reasons for declining compliance rates besides fatigue?

A major problem with compliance is that employees primarily perform hand disinfection when it is a matter of protecting themselves from infection – such as after contact with infectious material. Consequently, we see the worst compliance rates wherever hand disinfection serves to protect patients. Therefore, healthcare facilities should, once again, draw their staff’s attention to the moments of hand hygiene that are explicitly to protect patients, namely before patient contact and sterile activities.

Are there other ways healthcare facilities can improve hand hygiene compliance?

Yes. In addition to awareness and sensitization, concrete measures are also needed. The use of high-quality, skin-compatible hand disinfectants is one such measure. Anyone working in the healthcare sector and performing countless disinfections a day would naturally much rather do so with a product that is skin- compatible, than one that dries out the hands and causes skin irritations.

But there’s more. Contactless dispensers can have a positive effect on compliance too. If possible, these dispensers should be installed at the point of care – in other words, exactly where they are needed. This means being at a patient’s bedside and not at the door to the room. Gown or coat bottles can also be a good solution, as then employees always have hand disinfectant within reach.

“HWG“ mandatory texts, alternatively also in the website footer.

Use disinfectants with care.
Always read the label and product information before use.

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