by ChrisAnna Mink MD

The first week of December is Handwashing Awareness Week, and I had the opportunity to interview (well, sort of) Harbor’s own Helping Hand, the alter ego of Dr. Ken Zangwill.

Zangwill is the Director of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center Department of Infection Prevention and Control. HH (the preferred handle of Helping Hand) and Zangwill became acquainted during a previous campaign. They were trying to raise awareness about hand hygiene “in a fun and lighthearted way,” rather than being shall we say, “heavy-handed.” Throughout the year, Harbor’s Infection Control team do different activities to remind staff about the importance of hand hygiene. For a good reason, handwashing reduces hospital-acquired infections and saves lives.

The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) refer to hand hygiene as a “do-it-yourself vaccine.” Practicing good handwashing is the best way to prevent the spread of germs, not just in the healthcare setting, but in all environments including at home.

For good technique using soap and water, the CDC recommends following five simple and effective steps (Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, Dry). Scrubbing should take about 20 seconds – that’s the amount of time needed to sing the “Happy Birthday” song two times. This method may reduce the microbial contamination on hands by nearly 80%.

When soap and clean running water aren’t available, alcohol-based hand sanitizer is an acceptable alternative in most situations. However, sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs and might not remove harmful chemicals. Sanitizers should not be used when the hands are visibly soiled.

HH has pointed his (three) fingers at all staff to enforce handwashing. He doesn’t think anyone should be given the “white glove” treatment. Zangwill said, “The clerks on 3WICU and 6WICU are active champions of [hand hygiene] and will ask any and all people that come into the unit to wash their hands.”

When asked for any concluding advice about handwashing, Zangwill summed up his approach by saying, “No one has an excuse to NOT do [hand hygiene]. Increased [hand hygiene] rates = increased patient safety. One unwashed hand can kill someone. No joke.”