Published on January 15, 2017

Hand Hygiene: How 20 Seconds Can Make A World Of Difference

With flu season picking up and respiratory diseases causing widespread disruptions, hand hygiene is more important than ever, said Owensboro Health’s Infection Prevention specialists. Laura Gillim, a clinical program specialist in Infection Prevention and Quality Support, said it’s much easier to wash your hands than to treat an illness.

“Practicing hand hygiene is a simple yet effective way to prevent infections,” Gillim said. “Washing your hands can prevent the spread of germs, including those that are resistant to antibiotics and are becoming difficult – If not impossible – to treat.”

Influenza’s impact is increasing nationally and Kentucky is now one of the states where the virus is listed as “widespread.” That means influenza-like illnesses or laboratory-confirmed influenza are occurring in at least half the regions of Kentucky. For healthy individuals, influenza is debilitating and miserable. For those with certain health conditions, influenza can open the door to deadly infections or be deadly on its own.

Gillim said hand-washing also prevents problems like the common cold, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and viral gastroenteritis (a viral illness that causes nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea).

“These illnesses can all prevented by proper hand hygiene. That’s why it is essential to wash your hands with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and/or changing diapers, and always before eating or handling food,” Gillim said.

Are you washing your hands correctly? It seems like a simple task, but it’s often done incorrectly. Here’s the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guide on how to wash your hands the right way:

  • Wet your hands (the water can be warm or cold).
  • Apply soap and rub your hands together to get a good lather going.
  • Scrub. We mean really scrub. Put some effort into it. Do this for 20 seconds. Hum “Happy Birthday” to yourself twice to keep time. (See the below graphic for areas which need special attention)
  • Rinse thoroughly.
  • Dry your hands with a paper towel. That paper towel can also be used to open a door (if needed).

Note: If you use hand sanitizer, choose one that is at least 60 percent alcohol. Remember that hand sanitizer isn’t effective if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy.

For more information about hand hygiene, visit

About Owensboro Health

Owensboro Health is a nonprofit health system with a mission to heal the sick and to improve the health of the communities it serves in Kentucky and Indiana. The system includes Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, nationally recognized for design, architecture and engineering; Owensboro Health Muhlenberg Community Hospital; Owensboro Health Twin Lakes Medical Center; the Owensboro Health Medical Group comprised of over 350 providers at more than 30 locations; three outpatient Healthplex facilities, a certified medical fitness facility, the Healthpark; a weight management program, and the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center.

On average each year, we have more than 19,000 inpatient admissions, deliver 2,000 babies and provide the region’s only Level III NICU. Owensboro Health physicians perform nearly 33,000 surgical procedures, including nearly 150 open-heart surgeries. Our physicians and staff have 90,000 Emergency Department visits and more than 1.25 million outpatient visits annually. Visit our home page for more information.