Healthy Living: Why hand hygiene is important

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 8:58 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska Regional Hospital Infection Prevention Coordinator Jenny Mayo and her team conducted an experiment to discover how important hand washing is by placing an unwashed handprint in a petri dish and letting it sit for four days.

“We had one of our microbiology techs without washing her hands, just do an imprint on the plate, then we incubate it, which is just putting it in a warm environment and see what it grows,” Mayo said, and noted that tiny circles and clusters of bacteria appeared following the experiment. “Each little circle represents a bacterial colony, so lots and lots of bacteria all in one spot.”

Mayo said the contrasting colors on the petri dish represent different species of bacteria. She added, fortunately for the tech, the team didn’t see anything that looked like a superbug, a strain of bacteria that has become particularly resistant to antibiotics.

“Some are considered normal flora,” Mayo said about the various strains of bacteria that can be found on one’s hand. “We all have some bacteria on our hands, but it’s really important to wash our hands to reduce the amount of bacteria on them.”

To combat the spread of bacteria, Mayo said people should wash their hands when entering a building, using a restroom, before and after eating and when visiting a patient. She added that hands should be washed whenever they are visibly soiled.

“Sometimes we touch surfaces and we’re not even thinking about it,” Mayo said. “Washing your hands is very important because most people often also touch their face, and that is how you get bacteria and viruses from a surface into your body.”

While yes, bacteria is everywhere, Mayo said having someone see what’s on their hands might make them think twice about not wanting to wash them in the first place.

World Hand Hygiene Day is Wednesday.

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