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COVID-19 and hand hygiene: the vital importance of hand drying

24 September 2020
Volume 29 · Issue 17


The significance of hand hygiene for preventing the transmission of microorganisms and reducing the spread of infection has been brought into sharp focus following the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In the months since the initial outbreak, international public health campaigns and practitioner education has concentrated on hand washing and hand sanitising, with very little reference to hand drying, if any at all. However, hand drying is integral to effective hand hygiene, and is important in controlling the spread of microorganisms and maintaining healthy skin integrity. This research commentary will focus on two issues of importance with regards to hand drying: microbial transmission and skin irritation, with implications for healthcare practitioners and practice considered. It is argued that a more holistic approach to hand hygiene must be the ambition if health professional and public behaviour is to become embedded and sustained.

Hand hygiene is central to public health and safe healthcare practice, and its impact on the control and spread of infections is even more apparent in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Research shows that hand hygiene is the single most important strategy for preventing and reducing the spread of microorganisms (Schweizer et al, 2014; Luangasanatip et al, 2015); and occupies a unique position within the field of healthcare and patient safety, in that it is universally relevant to staff and patients at every healthcare encounter. The important role of hand hygiene in preventing the transmission of microorganisms has been especially highlighted most recently following the global pandemic of the coronavirus causing COVID-19, which was initially identified in Wuhan, China, in late December 2019. The ability of hand hygiene, including hand washing or the use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers, to prevent infections is related to the reduction in the number of viable pathogens that transiently contaminate the hands. Following the initial outbreak, COVID-19-specific infection prevention measures were rapidly introduced, with hand hygiene for infection prevention forming a crucial part of the international response to the global emergence of COVID-19. Interestingly, the focus and effort of COVID-19 public health campaigns and health professional education has been on hand washing, with no or little emphasis on hand drying. Historically, the frequency of hand hygiene among healthcare staff and the wider public has been suboptimal and while compliance with hand-hygiene practices has improved, especially in healthcare settings and hospitals where promotion has been implemented (Schweizer et al, 2014; Luangasanatip et al, 2015), it remains that behaviours fall short of the necessary expectations. This is particularly true for hand drying, as strategies to improve behavioural compliance with hand hygiene remain limited in their effectiveness in that they fail to consider this vital, although much neglected, aspect of hand-hygiene practice.

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