Winter isn’t all festive holiday cheer and new beginnings in the New Year—it’s also (unfortunately) synonymous with cold & flu season. But there are two things you can do during the winter months (and the rest of the year!) to stay as healthy as possible.
As anesthesiologists, handwashing is a critical part of our daily work. Whether it’s a complex surgery or a simple office visit, we always wash our hands before and after having direct contact with a patient. We also wash our hands after having any contact with blood, other body fluids, or medical equipment/objects in close proximity to our patients. We wash our hands after removing our gloves and, just like everyone else, after using the restroom or before eating.
For routine examinations and office visits, we follow the healthcare provider handwashing recommendations issued by the CDC, which are probably similar to the hand-washing you’re familiar with:
- Wet hands with water.
- Apply the amount of soap recommended by the manufacturer.
- Rub your hands together vigorously for at least 15 seconds, covering all surfaces of the hands and fingers.
- Rinse your hands with water and dry with disposable towels. Use the towel to turn off the faucet.
Surgery, however, is another story. Because surgery sites are prone to infection, there is a thorough surgical handwashing procedure that every doctor, nurse or technician in the surgery suite follows:
- Remove rings, watches, and bracelets—your fingers and wrists should be free of any jewelry.
- Wet hands.
- Apply antimicrobial soap.
- Choose one hand/arm to start on. Using a clean scrub brush, scrub each side of each finger, between the finger, and the back and front of the hand for two minutes.
- Next, move up the arm, keeping the hand upright so that water from the arm does not flow down to contaminate the clean hand.
- Wash each side of the arm, all the way up to three inches above the elbow, for one minute.
- Repeat on the other hand and arm. If the hand touches anything except the brush at any time, the scrub must be lengthened by one minute for every area that has been contaminated.
- Rinse hands and arms by passing them through the water in one direction only, from fingertips to elbow. Do not move the arm back and forth through the water.
- Proceed to the operating room suite holding hands above elbows.
- Once in the operating room suite, hands and arms should be dried using a sterile towel and aseptic technique before you don your gown and sterile gloves.
If that sounds a little overwhelming, don’t worry; the guidelines for handwashing for the general public are much less intensive—but just as important! Handwashing is one of the best methods people have to avoid getting sick or getting other people sick. In fact, handwashing can prevent 30% of diarrhea-related sicknesses and about 20% of respiratory infections.
When you wash your hands, follow these steps from the CDC:
- Wet hands with clean, running water, and then turn off the tap.
- Add soap to your hands and rub together, being sure not to overlook the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds—about as much time as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice from beginning to end.
- Rinse your hands well under running water.
- Dry your hands with a clean towel or air dry them.
In terms of when to wash your hands, the CDC recommends washing them before, after, and during food preparation, before eating and before and after caring for someone who is sick or wounded (including yourself). It’s also important to wash your hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers, touching animals, handling animal food or waste or dealing with garbage.
One of the illnesses handwashing helps prevent is influenza (or the flu), a common virus that affected more than 48.8 million people in the 2017-2018 season. With symptoms that include fever, chills, body or muscle aches, headaches and fatigue, the flu is incredibly unpleasant—but for people with compromised immune systems, babies, and older adults, it can be deadly. That’s why it’s important to get a flu vaccination every year (in addition to washing your hands regularly).
While the effectiveness of the vaccine varies year to year, studies show that getting vaccinated can reduce the risk of getting the flu by 40% to 60%. For children, pregnant women, older adults and people with chronic conditions, the flu vaccine is especially important in staying healthy.
All of us here at Allied get vaccinated every year—and you should too.