At this time of COVID-19, we find ourselves in a frantic search for PPE – personal protective equipment. While you take a breath, please let me share a brief history lesson. You may not believe the story, but it is the truth. It begins with my first day of nursing school, way back in 1975.
Day one training: handwashing with a bar of soap. Yes, a bar of soap. Nurses were educated how to get below the dirty outer layer and scrub in a way that hands came out sanitized. Clean hands became the foundation of both patient and nurse protection.
Through the 1970’s and well into the 1980’s, there was only one type of gloves in the hospital – surgeon’s gloves that were used in the operating room. Everything else was done with well-washed hands. This included sterile dressing changes, starting IV’s, giving injections, cleaning up soiled patients, and doing all forms of hands-on care. Hands were scrubbed between every patient and whenever soiled in any way. Nurses never touched our faces. And the event of “hospital-acquired-infections” was not a topic.
The event of non-sterile gloves and hand sanitizer was born in the AIDS epidemic which fulminated in the mid 1980’s. Both of these have been great as options to minimize cross-contamination. However, the gold standard has always been effective handwashing. That is what we are now being reintroduced to. Handwashing with clean, running water. Using enough soap to get a good lather. Wash all parts of hands, between fingers, and fingernails. Continue for a minimum of 20 seconds (singing “Happy Birthday” twice). Dry hands with a clean towel or air dry.
What’s old is new again? With handwashing, this is as true as ever. It is the gold-standard for yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Wash thoroughly and don’t touch your face!