Good health habits prevent germs

  • Published
  • By Michele Riboul
  • 59th Medical Wing Infection Control
Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps one can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands properly.

The skin is an important barrier protecting you against harmful microorganisms. Keeping your skin intact and free of injury is your primary defense against the spread of infection.

Allowing the skin to become dry can cause tiny nicks and cracks in the skin that allow germs to enter the body. Dry skin is caused by a loss of water and not from a lack of oils on the skin. Many factors can speed up this loss such as the repeated wetting and drying of the skin, as well as washing hands too often with a strong hand hygiene agent.

There are two types of microorganisms that compose our skin flora -- resident and transient. Resident microorganisms are always on the skin. They cannot be removed completely, but their number can be reduced. Many of the resident skin organisms do not cause infections in healthy people, however, they can cause infections during surgical procedures and when a patient's body is not able to fight infections.

Transient organisms are organisms that we pick up from the environment around us and are often found on the hands of healthcare personnel. These can be harmful microorganisms acquired from an infected or a non infected patient and can lead to serious infections. Hand hygiene can remove these organisms from our skin.

Hand hygiene is the single most important way to prevent the spread of infection. There are two methods of hand hygiene -- soap and water or alcohol hand rub.

Soap and water physically removes germs from the hands and takes about 1.5 minutes to wash properly. This method can be used when hands are grossly soiled, but can also cause skin irritation.

The alcohol rub method kills germs on the skin and takes only 15 seconds to clean. This method should not be used when hands are grossly soiled. Alcohol rub can sometimes improve skin conditions.

Hand washing doesn't take much time or effort, but it offers great rewards in terms of preventing illness. Adopting simple hand-washing habits can play a major role in protecting your health.

For more information, contact the Infection Control Office, Wilford Hall Medical Center, at 210-292-7803.