Handwashing No Longer Necessary?

The days of “wash your hands before dinner” are (at least partially) coming to an end! True, many infections are spread by the hands. True, we have been urging people to increase handwashing to prevent these infections. True, even in hospitals people have not been following guidelines adequately. (I was seen by a doc in an ER recently who did not wash between examining the contagious person next to me and examining me.)

But on November 9, 2001 the CDC released draft guidelines for hand hygiene in hospitals and other healthcare settings, calling for a switch AWAY from handwashing, toward using alcohol-based, waterless antiseptic gels on the hands (unless the hands are visibly dirty or contaminated).

When compared to soap and water, or antibacterial soap and water, the hand gels are MORE effective and LESS irritating or drying. They are even an improvement over the time-honored ‘surgical scrub’. They are also more convenient and easier to get kids (and doctors) to use. The CDC recommends that waterless antiseptic gels be kept at all patient bedsides, and that individual pocket-size containers be carried by all healthcare personnel.

I admit that we have already made this switch in my family — even before the studies came out.

Published on: November 15, 2001
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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