Question of the Week

December 10, 2002


The cruise ship incidents have been in the news....
"Recent reports of gastrointestinal illness aboard cruise ships may have some travelers thinking twice about setting sail, but cruise industry officials said there is little cause for worry.... The virus can be transmitted from person to person, the method of transmission suspected in the recent outbreaks, or through contaminated food and water. Hand washing and limiting hand-to-mouth contact are the best ways to prevent it, health officials said."

Hospitals have been in the news...
"Germs in hospitals kill more Americans every year than car accidents, fires and drownings combined, the Chicago Tribune reports. In a special investigation, the newspaper found that in 2000 nearly three-quarters of these deadly infections -- or about 75,000 -- were preventable. Strict adherence to clean-hand policies alone could save 20,000 lives, according to the federal government."

It is now a commonly accepted practice for doctors...
"Improved adherence to hand hygiene (i.e. hand washing or use of alcohol-based hand rubs) has been shown to terminate outbreaks in health care facilities, to reduce transmission of antimicrobial resistant organisms (e.g. methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus) and reduce overall infection rates."

This hasn't always been the case...
"In the late 1840's, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis was an assistant in the maternity wards of a Vienna hospital. There he observed that the mortality rate in a delivery room staffed by medical students was up to three times higher than in a second delivery room staffed by midwives. In fact, women were terrified of the room staffed by the medical students. Semmelweis observed that the students were coming straight from their lessons in the autopsy room to the delivery room. He postulated that the students might be carrying the infection from their dissections to birthing mothers. He ordered doctors and medical students to wash their hands with a chlorinated solution before examining women in labor. The mortality rate in his maternity wards eventually dropped to less than one percent....
Despite its rocky beginnings, handwashing has become a part of our culture. Handwashing and other hygienic practices are taught at every level of school, advocated in the work place, and emphasized during medical training. According to the United States Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 'Handwashing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection.'"

It sounds as if it should be so easy...
"'Your hands are the most important means from which germs travel from one person to another,' said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of hospital infectious programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. 'So it would make sense that washing your hands would be an effective strategy for protecting yourself.' ...And all it really takes is about 10 to 15 seconds worth of effort, according to Gerberding. So here's the dirt on the subject..."

Question of the Week:
With all this evidence of the good it does, what are reasons people would choose not to wash their hands? What can individuals, schools, and places of business do to encourage proper hand washing and help reduce the spread of disease? What should they do?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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