Importance of Hand Hygiene

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Hand hygiene affects the quality of healthcare every moment of every day across the globe. In the United States alone, more than 270 people die each day from an infection contracted while at the hospital. Healthcare associated infections (HAIs) exact a tremendous toll, resulting in increased morbidity, mortality, and adding from $28 billion to $40 billion each year to U.S. healthcare costs. Studies indicate that many HAIs are directly related to pathogens transmitted from patient to patient via the hands of healthcare workers, which occurs when workers fail to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for hand hygiene.

In October 2008, the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a final ruling denying hospital Medicare payments for hospital stay costs related to certain HAI. Moreover, most states now require mandatory public reporting of infection rates by hospital and publish this information. In these states, a consumer can review this information and opt for a hospital reporting the lowest rate of HAIs.

Similar concerns exist in other industries, such as those relating to the processing and preparation of food. Retail outlets such as restaurants and grocery stores, and other institutions such as nursing homes, are subject to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Food Code. In addition to requiring employees to wash their hands, the Food Code requires employers to monitor their employees' hand washing. Despite such extensive efforts to ensure that proper hand hygiene is performed, more than a quarter of all food-borne illnesses are thought to be due to improper hand washing, and it is estimated that food-borne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year.