Monday, March 04, 2013


Improve health by washing away germs

Some might consider me a “germaphobe.” I consider myself safe.

In fact, many of nurses are commonly accused of being obsessed with washing our hands. That’s a good thing.

I’ll get back to what we do in the hospital in a moment. But here is something for you to consider:  Only one-third of people take the time to wash their hands after going to the bathroom, according to a study by the American Society for Microbiology.

During National Patient Safety Awareness Week March 3-9, hand washing is an appropriate topic. It’s the most important thing you can do to stop the spread of germs — during flu season and throughout the year, inside the hospital and out.

Outside the hospital, here are a few tips:

•  Keep your kitchens and bathrooms clean and free of clutter.
•  Sponges are filled with germs. To combat this, wet the sponge and microwave it on high for a minute.
•  Take care of leftovers as soon as everyone is done eating.
•  After washing dishes, clean the counters, faucets and sink.
•  Wipe down your bathroom every day.
•  Don’t just rinse your hands with water — soap should be used after going to the bathroom, before and after cooking and eating, etc…
•  Use the first stall in a public bathroom — it has fewer germs because people tend to pick others for privacy reasons.
•  Don’t put your bags on the floor of a public bathroom — it is loaded with bacteria.

In our hospital, we have a policy of “wash in, wash out.” This means that staff entering patients’ rooms are required to wash their hands when they enter and when they leave.

This is the single most important thing we can do to prevent the spread of infection in our hospital. We monitor this on a regular basis, and while I’d like to say there is 100 percent compliance, we are not there yet.

That’s where you come in. If you are a hospital patient, friend, or family member, I urge you to be a partner in your care. Be observant, and if you witness a staff member who does not observe this protocol do not be afraid to speak up. In fact, we encourage it.

Beth Sullivan is an infection control nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Sullivan or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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