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Recommendations for the General Public on Hygiene

Armen Hareyan's picture

Bathing or showering cleans the skin by mechanical removal of bacteria shed on corneocytes. Bacterial counts are at least as high or higher after bathing or showering with a regular soap than before. Frequent bathing has aesthetic and stress-relieving benefits but serves little microbiologic purpose. Mild, nonantimicrobial soap should suffice for routine bathing. Bathing with an antimicrobial product reduces rates of cutaneous infection and could be beneficial when skin infections are likely or before certain surgical procedures. With those exceptions, available data do not support a recommendation for bathing with antimicrobial products.

No single recommendation for hand hygiene practices in the general population would be adequate. The potential advantage of sustained antimicrobial activity for certain occupations (e.g., food handlers and child-care providers) must be balanced with the theoretical possibility of emergence of resistant strains and perhaps other, as yet unrecognized, safety issues.

An alternative to detergent-based antiseptic products is the use of alcohol hand rinses, which have recently become widely available over the counter. Their advantages include rapid and broad-spectrum activity, excellent microbicidal characteristics, and lack of potential for emergence of resistance. Alcohol-based products could be recommended for use among persons who need immediate protection after touching contaminated surfaces or before and after contact with someone at high risk for infection.

Since hands are a primary mode of fecal-oral and respiratory transmission, specific indications for use of antiseptic hand products by the general public are close physical contact with persons at high risk for infection (e.g., neonates, the very old, or immunosuppressed); close physical contact with infected persons; infection with an organism likely to be transmitted by direct contact (diarrhea, upper respiratory infection, skin infections); or work in a setting in which infectious disease transmission is likely (food preparation, crowded living quarters such as chronic-care residences, prisons, child-care centers, and preschools).

Recommendations for the Health-Care Professional

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Detergent-Based Antiseptics or Alcohol

Because of increasingly vulnerable patient populations, the demand for hand hygiene among health-care professionals has never been greater. However, frequent handwashing is not only potentially damaging to skin, it is also time-consuming and expensive. Finnish investigators demonstrated that after frequent washing the hands of patient-care providers became damaged and posed greater risk to themselves and patients than if they had washed less often. A mild emulsion cleansing rather than handwashing with liquid soap was associated with a substantial improvement in the skin of nurses' hands. Alcohol-based formulations are superior to antiseptic detergents for rapid microbial killing on skin and, with the addition of appropriate moisturizers, are probably milder. Since alcohols are rapid acting, are broad spectrum, and require no washing or drying, damage caused by detergents and mechanical friction from toweling is avoided.


Dr. Larson is professor of pharmaceutical and therapeutic research, The School of Nursing, and professor of epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. She is editor of the American Journal of Infection Control and former chair of the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) and member of CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases Board of Scientific Counselors. Address for correspondence: Elaine Larson, Columbia University School of Nursing, 630 W. 168th St., New York, NY 10032, USA; fax: 212-305-0722; e-mail: [email protected]

The source of this article is http://www.cdc.gov