Mother always said, “Wash your hands after you use the restroom!” She should have added, “and after you have any kind of contact with a hospital.” Germs don’t drive cars or ride the bus to get around; they just hitch a ride on our hands.

Almost everything in a healthcare setting is a potential hiding place or breeding ground for pathogenic organisms. Germs. Not just in the patient’s room. Bathrooms. Hallways. Lunchrooms. Even everyone’s clothing. They are all potential hosts.

Hard surfaces in patient rooms such as bed rails, stethoscopes, TV remote controls, telephones and medical equipment with touch screens are all dangers. Soft surfaces such as bed linens and patient gowns carry germs. But wait. So do the uniforms of doctors and nurses and other staff. And in the remote administrative suites and hospital wide break rooms alike, sink handles, vending machine buttons, computer mice, desk phones, elevator buttons and water fountain handles all carry germs.

But how do they get there? The human touch. When we touch one thing, pick up a germ, and then touch another thing, the germs transfer to that next thing. And the next. And the next. And some of these germs are known to live for months, even years just lying around waiting for someone to give them a ride.

Obviously the more things we touch the more likely we are aiding with germ transmission. A study was done by Obee in 2009 analyzing the objects that various hospital inhabitants are most likely to touch.

What does a nurse touch most frequently? Patient notes, patients, blood pressure cuffs, and the patient bedside table. What about doctors; what do they touch?
Patient notes/medical record, patient bedside, notes trolley, and their pager/phones. And the patients. Lying in bed, what do they touch?
Their bedclothes, bedframe/bed rails, bedside table, bedside chair, and their wound dressing/wound. Finally, the unsuspecting visitor. What do they come in contact with most frequently? Things surrounding the patient. And of course, the patient.

Knowing this gives us an idea as to what we need to concentrate our cleaning efforts on. However, we must bear in mind that if we can wash our hands between touching one thing and the next, the potential for cross contamination is tremendously reduced. Listen to Mother. Wash your hands!

Information for this posting was derived form a PowerPoint presentation entitled Pathogen Persistence, Transmission and Cross-Contamination Prevention courtesy of Infection Control Today.

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