Hand-washing guidelines allow alcohol-based rubs

New rules is a departure for the CDC

The biggest change in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recently approved hand-washing guidelines is the approval of alcohol-based hand rubs as an accepted method of cleaning hands between patients.

This is a departure for the CDC’s previous recommendations because there now is enough scientific evidence to support alcohol-based products, says Michele L. Pearson, MD, medical epidemiologist for the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion in Atlanta.

Other highlights of the hand-washing guidelines include:

  • The use of alcohol-based hand rubs by health care personnel for patient care will address some of the obstacles faced when taking care of patients.
  • Hand washing with soap and water remains a sensible strategy for hand hygiene in nonhealth care settings.
  • When health care workers’ hands are visibly soiled, they should wash with soap and water.
  • The use of gloves does not eliminate the need for hand hygiene, nor does the use of hand hygiene eliminate the need for gloves. Gloves reduce hand contamination by 70% to 80%, prevent cross-contamination, and protect patients and health care personnel from infections. Hand rubs should be used before and after each patient, just as gloves should be changed before and after each patient.
  • When using an alcohol-based hand rub, apply the product to palm of one hand and rub hands together, covering all surfaces of hands and fingers until hands are dry. Note that the volume needed to reduce the number of bacteria on hands varies by product.
  • When evaluating hand-hygiene products for potential use, managers or product-selection committees should consider the relative efficacy of antiseptic agents against various pathogens and the acceptability of products by personnel. Characteristics that can affect acceptability and, therefore, usage include smell, consistency, color, and the effect of dryness on hands.

(Editor’s note: To see full text of hand-hygiene guidelines, go to: www.cdc.gov/handhygiene/.)