RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—You can try to stop the flu in its tracks by donning a flu mask and hazmat suit everywhere you go. Or you learn to do a proper hand washing in just 15 seconds, and wash your hands as frequently as possible. Disease-control specialists have said time and again that proper hand washing is the only way to fully protect yourself against disease, and a new study out of France shows that good hand-washing hygiene can protect us even more than we'd expect.
THE DETAILS: The French study, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used computer models to examine healthcare worker and patient interactions. The researchers found the a single "peripatetic" healthcare worker (a doctor, nurse, or technician who moves about a hospital frequently, visiting patients in different wards) who didn't wash hands could spread almost as much infection as the entire rest of the hospital staff put together.
WHAT IT MEANS: If a single healthcare worker can spread infection that rapidly around a hospital, just imagine how easily infections are spread in public among people who have frequent contact with others but don't exercise precautions. Hand washing is where it all starts, both to protect you and those around you. "Especially now with everything that's circulating, one of the most basic things you can do is practice good hand hygiene," says Lynn Cromer, RN, MT, CIC, an infection-control consultant with the Duke Infection Control Outreach Network and spokesperson for the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.