Strategies to Prevent Healthcare-Associated Infections: Hand Hygiene

Publication Date: February 8, 2023
Last Updated: February 14, 2023

Background on prevention of HAIs through hand hygiene

Summary of existing guidelines and recommendations

Guidelines for hand hygiene in healthcare settings have been published by the following organizations:
  1. Healthcare Infection Prevention Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  2. The World Health Organization (WHO)
  3. The Association for Perioperative Registered Nurses (AORN), related to perioperative hand hygiene
  4. The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) related to hand hygiene for the operating room anesthesia work area. Reference Munoz-Price, Bowdle and Johnston

Recommended strategies to improve hand hygiene

Essential practices for preventing HAIs through hand hygiene

  1. Promote the maintenance of healthy hand skin and fingernails. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

    1. Promote the preferential use of ABHS in most clinical situations.(Quality of evidence: HIGH)

    2. Perform hand hygiene as indicated by the CDC or the WHO Five Moments (Table 3). (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

    3. Include fingernail care in facility-specific polices related to hand hygiene:

      1. HCP should maintain short, natural fingernails.

      2. Fingernails should not extend past the fingertip.

      3. HCP who provide direct or indirect care in high-risk areas (eg, ICU, perioperative) should not wear artificial fingernail extenders.

      4. Prohibitions against fingernail polish (standard or gel shellac) are at the discretion of the infection prevention program, except among scrubbed individuals who interact with the sterile field during surgical procedures; these individuals should not wear fingernail polish or gel shellac.

    4. Include measures for primary and secondary prevention of dermatitis.

    5. Provide HCP with readily accessible, facility-approved hand moisturizers.

    6. Engage all HCP in primary prevention of occupational irritant and allergic contact dermatitis. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

      1. Primary prevention of HCP dermatitis should include HCP education about the following:

        1. Strategies to maintain healthy hand skin

        2. Handwashing techniques to promote healthy hand skin, such as avoiding hot water and patting rather than rubbing hands dry

        3. When and how to use gloves, change gloves, take periodic breaks to allow hands to dry, and routinely apply facility-approved moisturizers

        4. The potential for allergic reactions to components in ABHS formulations, antiseptics (eg, CHG), glove material, or products used during these products’ manufacture (eg, accelerants)

      2. Provide facility-approved hand moisturizer that is compatible with antiseptics and gloves

      3. Evaluate new products for the absence of potential allergenic surfactants, preservatives, fragrances, or dyes

      4. Workplace self-screening for dermatitis

      5. Refer HCP to the occupational health department for assistance in cases of hand eczema or dermatitis

    7. Provide cotton glove liners for HCP with hand irritation and educate these HCP on their use (ie, following instructions for use, laundering, and/or discarding) (Quality of evidence: MODERATE)

  2. Select appropriate products. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

    1. For routine hand hygiene, choose liquid, gel, or foam ABHS with at least 60 % alcohol (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

    2. Involve HCP in the selection of products (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

    3. Obtain and consider manufacturers’ product-specific data if seeking ABHS with ingredients that may enhance efficacy against organisms anticipated to be less susceptible to biocides. (Quality of evidence: MODERATE)

    4. Confirm that the volume of ABHS dispensed is consistent with the volume shown to be efficacious. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

    5. Educate HCP about the appropriate volume of ABHS and the time required to be effective.(Quality of evidence: HIGH)

      1. The volume of hand sanitizer should be sufficient to cover all surfaces of the hands and may require >1 dispenser actuation for large hands. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

      2. When sanitizing, HCP should rub hands for a minimum of 15 seconds. When handwashing, HCP should scrub for a minimum of 15 seconds. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

      3. Facilities should consider fluorescent indicators for use when training HCP in the application of ABHS and handwashing.

    6. Provide facility-approved hand moisturizer that is compatible with antiseptics and gloves. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

    7. For surgical antisepsis, use an FDA-approved surgical hand scrub or waterless surgical hand rub. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

      1. Complete surgical hand antisepsis by performing a surgical hand rub or surgical hand scrub. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

      2. Scrub brushes should be avoided because they damage skin. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

  3. Ensure the accessibility of hand hygiene supplies. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

    1. Ensure that ABHS dispensers are unambiguous, visible, and accessible within the workflow of HCP. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

      1. Use a systematic method (eg, workflow evaluation, event counters) to determine optimal placement of ABHS dispensers. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

    2. In private rooms, consider 2 ABHS dispensers per private room the minimum threshold for adequate numbers of dispensers: 1 dispenser in the hallway, and 1 dispenser in the patient room. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

    3. In semiprivate rooms, suites, bays, and other multipatient bed configurations, consider 1 dispenser per 2 beds as the minimum threshold for adequate numbers of dispensers. Place ABHS dispensers in the workflow of HCP. (Quality of evidence: LOW)

    4. Ensure that the placement of hand hygiene supplies (eg, individual pocket-sized dispensers, bed mounted ABHS dispenser, single use pump bottles) is easily accessible for HCP in all areas where patients receive care. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

    5. Evaluate for the risk of intentional consumption. Utilize dispensers that mitigate this risk, such as wall-mounted dispensers that allow limited numbers of activations within short periods (eg, 5 seconds). (Quality of evidence: LOW)

      1. If individual pocket-sized dispensers are used when caring for individuals at risk for intentional consumption, they must always remain in the control of the HCP.

    6. Have surgical hand rub and scrub available in perioperative areas. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

    7. Consider providing ABHS hand rubs or handwash with FDA-approved antiseptics for use in procedural areas and prior to high-risk bedside procedures (eg, central-line insertion). (Quality of evidence: LOW)

  4. Ensure appropriate glove use to reduce hand and environmental contamination. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

    1. Use gloves for all contact with the patient and environment as indicated by standard and contact precautions during care of individuals with organisms confirmed to be less susceptible to biocides (eg, C. difficile or norovirus).

      1. HCP caring for preterm neonate with central lines should perform hand hygiene before donning nonsterile gloves prior to patient and vascular device contact. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

    2. Educate HCP about the potential for self-contamination and environmental contamination when gloves are worn. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

      1. Whenever hand hygiene is indicated during episodes of care, HCP should doff gloves and perform hand hygiene.

    3. Clean hands immediately following glove removal. If handwashing is indicated and sinks are not immediately available, use ABHS and then wash hands as soon as possible.

    4. Educate and confirm the ability of HCP to doff gloves in a manner that avoids contamination. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

      1. Consider using fluorescent indicators applied to gloves during demonstrations of doffing to help HCP visualize how contamination may occur.

  5. Take steps to reduce environmental contamination associated with sinks and sink drains. (Quality of Evidence: HIGH)

    1. Ensure that handwashing sinks are constructed according to local administrative codes.

    2. Include handwashing sinks in water infection control risk assessments for healthcare settings.

    3. If possible, dedicate sinks to handwashing.

    4. Educate HCP to refrain from disposing substances that promote growth of biofilms (eg, intravenous solutions, medications, liquid food, or human waste) in handwashing sinks.

    5. Use an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant to clean sink bowls and faucets daily.

    6. Do not keep medications or patient care supplies on countertops or mobile surfaces that are within 1m (3 feet) of sinks.

      1. Install splash guards if countertops must be used to store supplies.

    7. Provide disposable or single-use towels to dry hands. Do not use hot air dryers in patient care areas.

    8. Consult with state or local public health officials when investigating confirmed or suspected outbreaks of healthcare-associated infections due to waterborne pathogens of premise plumbing.

  6. Monitor adherence to hand hygiene. (Quality of evidence: HIGH)

    1. Use multiple methods to measure adherence to hand hygiene.

    2. Consider advantages and limitations of each type of monitoring.

      1. Direct observation

        1. Direct overt observation

          1. To evaluate and improve HCP technique and adherence to facility-specific policies

          2. To prevent lapses during high-risk procedures such as insertion of invasive devices.

        2. Direct covert observation

          1. To monitor rates of adherence

          2. To elucidate contextual barriers and facilitators to hand hygiene

          3. To provide corrective feedback to individuals.

    3. Use a systematic approach to determine where and when observations should occur.

      1. Provide training for individuals who will collect observations. Ensure observers are prepared to address nonadherence.

      2. Limit observation periods to no more than 15 minutes.

      3. Collect enough observations to detect statistically significant changes in practice.

    4. Use an AHHMS to monitor trends in adherence on all shifts and days of the week.

      1. Collaborate with HCP in the implementation of an AHHMS and empower them to identify ways to improve the system (eg, who to notify when real-time reminders are not accurate or when maintenance is needed).

    5. Use patient-as-observer methods in areas with limited resources, such as outpatient departments.

    6. Use product volume measurement for large-scale planning and benchmarking.

      1. Audit the accessibility and functionality of hand hygiene equipment and supplies to ensure hand hygiene is supported by the physical environment of care.

  7. Provide timely and meaningful feedback to enhance a culture of safety. (Quality of evidence: MODERATE)

    1. Provide feedback in multiple formats (eg, verbal, written) and on multiple occasions (ie, real-time, weekly)

    2. Consider debriefing unit managers as soon as possible after each direct covert observation session. This can be done in a manner that preserves the observer’s confidentiality.

    3. Provide meaningful data with clear targets linked to actions to improve adherence.

      1. Meaningful data may include unit or role-based adherence data rather than overall performance.

      2. Real-time displays of hand hygiene adherence may provide incentive for improvement on a shift-by-shift basis.



Strategies to Prevent Healthcare-Associated Infections: Hand Hygiene

Authoring Organizations