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Wash your hands – it’s a matter of life and death

Hand-washing has become a matter of life and death in SA hospitals as a result of the growing problem of antibioticresistant infections – with everything from a blood-pressure cuff to a blanket having the potential to become a carrier of a life-threatening illness.
Netcare Greenacres Hospital infection control head Heidi Wiehahn said if bacteria and viruses were visible, we would all be freaking out and washing our hands more often.
She said everything from the flu virus to superbugs was spread by people not washing their hands.
Superbugs are bacteria that have become resistant to all known antibiotics.
Wiehahn was speaking at the hospital, where personnel signed a hand-washing pledge on Monday in celebration of World Hand Hygiene Day on Sunday.
“Hands go everywhere. “Yes, handbags are notorious for being dirty, but you don’t touch other people or your children with your handbag,” she said.
Wiehahn said antibiotic-resistant superbugs were found everywhere – on patients’ bedding and even on the notes in their files.
“People think that they don’t have to clean their hands because they haven’t touched the patient, but even if you touched the bed-railing or the bedding you could be spreading a superbug.”
She said hands should be cleaned not only before and after contact with a patient but also with anything in their environment.
Secret observers had been deployed around the hospital to ensure compliance with hand-cleaning rules, she said.
“We also give on-the-spot feedback as hand-washing has now become a matter of life and death.”
Everyone from ambulance crews coming into the hospital to administrative personnel who are in contact with patients is monitored.
Wiehahn said as swabs were inaccurate they had started using a stamp that showed up under ultraviolet light.
“That way we make sure that every surface and all equipment is wiped properly. My stamp is actually a little smiley face,” she said.
“Even a blood pressure cuff that is not properly wiped can spread bugs and viruses.”
She said while visitors to the hospital were monitored it was difficult, and members of the public could assist by keeping to the rules and cleaning their hands.
“We have bottles of hand cleaner at every bed.
“The nice-smelling waterless hand cleaner you buy in the shops is not strong enough. The industry standard is Clorexidene.
“An effective waterless hand cleaner contains a certain amount of alcohol and is very hard on the skin.
“You can see by the hands of a health professional if they are serious about hand cleaning.
“In our homes and communities, as well as within healthcare facilities, good hand hygiene is one of the most important means of preventing the spread of infectious illnesses.”
Netcare quality systems and innovation manager Angeliki Messina said everyone had a role to play in protecting themselves, families and communities through good hygiene.
“Washing your hands regularly and thoroughly reduces your chances of becoming ill or spreading infections to other people.
“This in turn contributes to the global effort to curb antibiotic resistance, as overuse of antibiotics makes these medicines less effective,” she said.
“Patients and visitors are encouraged to make use of the disinfecting hand sanitiser provided in our hospitals, as we seek to make hand hygiene as accessible as possible for everyone in our facilities.”
Life Healthcare spokesperson Ailsa Gouws said its hospitals had launched an internal campaign to encourage nurses to create their own 60-second dance routine using the handwashing steps.

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