For the record: the Safe Patient Project publicly endorses Hand Hygiene to reduce the spread of hospital acquired infections and protect patients. Now, in the wake of swine flu, our nation’s leaders are touting the same logic when it comes to preventing illness.

In a recent press conference addressing what we should do to prevent the spread of swine flu, President Obama brought us back to the basics from childhood: “So wash your hands when you shake hands. Cover your mouth when you cough. I know it sounds trivial, but it makes a huge difference.”

Hand hygiene isn’t rocket science, but it is good science when it comes to preventing hospital acquired infections. CDC research shows that proper hand hygiene can substantially cut infection rates and even eliminate them altogether.

Well-known physician/writer Atul Gwande has said that handwashing is one of the most neglected infection prevention practices. (He is right. Studies show that up to 60 percent of health care workers fail to wash their hands properly while on duty.) Gwande offered this disturbing truth:

Having shaken hands with a sniffling patient, pulled a sticky dressing off someone’s wound, pressed a stethoscope against a sweating chest, most of us do little more than wipe our hands on our white coats and move on – to see the next patient, to scribble a note in the chart, to grab some lunch.

Our nation must know that the result of encountering dirty hands in a hospital can be devastating.

Corinne Eastburn from Newport, Oregon shared her story with us about her mother, who died from a MRSA infection she contracted in a hospital in 2004. She said, “If the doctors and nurses would have just disinfected their hands I feel she never would have gotten MRSA.” Corinne doesn’t recall seeing any hospital staff wash their hands during her mother’s stay.

For decades, health experts have been trying to get doctors and hospital staff to wash their hands. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands initiative to get more health care workers to wash their hands. We have reported on similar initiatives going on throughout the country. It will be a breaking headline when more than half of doctors commit to adopting this preventative practice.

Join us in our nationwide campaign! The Safe Patient Project distributes portable bottles of hand sanitizer to remind people that hand hygiene is important for everyone.