Lather, rinse, repeat: The DIY vaccine

December 6, 2017
Access AOA’s clinical recommendations for infection control.

'Clean hands save lives' doesn't mince words as a campaign slogan—and that's just the way public health officials want it, especially during cold and flu season.

Handwashing is a simple yet effective way to curb the spread of infection, but is it so elementary that it's borderline forgettable?

That's the concern and impetus behind a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) campaign to promote regular handwashing and emphasize good hand hygiene, routines equally crucial inside the clinic and out.

In fact, proper handwashing education helped contribute to a 16-21% reduction in respiratory illnesses among the general population, studies suggest. But in health care settings, good hand hygiene isn't just a good idea to stave off sniffles—it's an absolute imperative to protect against transmission of seriously harmful bacteria.

Although many optometric procedures are considered low risk for disease transmission, doctors of optometry provide primary eye care services that range from the treatment and management of eye disease and injuries to routine, comprehensive care. Many eye diseases can be manually transmissible, and therefore, it's the responsibility of the doctor and their staff to adhere to universal precautions, including handwashing, before and after examinations and procedures.

3 reminders for effective hand hygiene in the practice

Proper hand hygiene in health care settings includes antiseptic hand wash and rubs, such as alcohol-based foam or gel hand sanitizers, or surgical hand antisepsis, the CDC notes. But when in doubt, handwashing is the preferred method for cleaning hands, particularly when working with patients suspected of infectious exposure. The CDC Guideline for Hand Hygiene in Health Care Settings suggests doctors and their staff follow these clinical recommendations for hand hygiene:

  1. Washing hands? Wet hands first with warm water, apply soap and rub hands together vigorously for 15-20 seconds, covering all surfaces of the hands and fingers. Rinse hands with warm water, use disposable towels to dry hands and turn off the faucet with the towel. Wash with soap and water when hands are visibly dirty, after known or suspected exposure to an infectious vector, before eating or after using the restroom.
  2. Using hand sanitizers? Place product on hands and rub together, covering all surfaces until hands feel dry, or about 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer for situations not described above.
  3. Concerning fingernails and jewelry. The CDC recommends against wearing artificial fingernails or extensions among health care personnel in direct patient contact, as bacteria can persist underneath even after proper hand hygiene. So, too, the CDC suggests personnel to wash/sanitize beneath rings as germs may collect in that area.

Hygiene, contact lenses go hand-in-hand

Handwashing is a critical component to healthy contact lens wear and care routines for the nearly 41 million American adults wearing the vision-correction devices. But the AOA's 2015 American Eye-Q® survey found that nearly 3-in-10 respondents didn't wash their hands before handling their contacts. That inaction alone can increase the risk for eye infection as fingers can transfer sight-threatening bacteria directly onto the eye.

For the same reason that it's necessary to wash hands before handling contact lenses, it's also important to thoroughly dry hands as damp fingers or tap water may inadvertently harbor contaminants.

Read more about contact lens care.

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