Students learn tricks to ensure clean hands

A hospital staff member uses black light to show students how germs can be spread.

Kendall schoolchildren are singing “Happy Birthday” much more often than usual these days, thanks to a novel healtheducation program presented in area elementary schools by West Kendall Baptist Hospital.

The simple act of handwashing, performed properly and regularly, greatly reduces the spread of infection and illness. Yet, many people don’t do a thorough job and still end up with germs, said Karen Vassell, community relations manager for West Kendall Baptist Hospital.

Vassell, along with the hospital’s pediatric emergency department staff, is conducting a “handwashing tour” of 13 Kendall area schools.

“An easy trick to make sure you’ve washed for the recommended 20 seconds is to sing the “Happy Birthday” song all the way through, twice, while you wash,” Vassell said. “Kids in our target group, from kindergarten through second grade, can easily remember and practice this rule.”

West Kendall Baptist Hospital began the free education program in December at the beginning of cold and flu season. Audiences at the 13 participating schools have ranged from 150 students to more than 400. By the time the tour wraps up in February, more than 3,000 students will have learned about the transmission of germs and the importance of handwashing.

“School-age children are a critical link in the chain of infection during cold and flu season,” said George Gordon, RN, Pediatric ED Assistant Nurse Manager. “There are so many of them in close proximity, and they touch everything.”

The common cold is far from just a minor annoyance. It is responsible for more than 22 million lost school days in the U.S. every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Proper handwashing can reduce the spread of colds and flu as well as more serious illnesses such as meningitis, bronchial infections and hepatitis A.

West Kendall Baptist Hospital conducts a similar handwashing program for all new hospital employees to underscore the importance of hygiene and infection control.

“Hands are the single most important agent of germ transmission, whether in a hospital, in public or at home,” said Denise Harris, RN, Chief Nursing Officer.

There are just a few simple steps to make sure you get your hands clean every time you wash:

• Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
• Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
• Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds, about as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song two times.
• Rinse your hands well and dry using a clean towel or air dry.

The hospital has donated two hand sanitizer units to each school participating in the handwashing program and has committed to providing ongoing sanitizer product refills.

“We want to make a positive impact on family health and wellness,” Harris said. “Helping schoolchildren develop good hygiene habits will pay dividends for years to come.”

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