Hand Hygiene: Washing and Disinfection

October 1, 2001
Although Oliver Wendell Holmes had already recognized the role of caregivers’ hands in the transmission of puerperal fever, the Hungarian physician Ignaz Semelweiss was the first to show, in the mid-19th century, that spread of this disease could be prevented by handwashing.1 Bacteria and viruses are commonly transmitted on the hands of health care workers, and handwashing is considered the single most important intervention to prevent such spread.2 During their daily work, health care workers can acquire pathogens from infected patients and transmit them to other patients. Numerous epidemics have been traced to the so-called transient flora on the contaminated hands of health care workers. There are fewer data on the transmission of pathogens in the dental setting; however, given the number of bacteria and viruses found in the mouth and the nasopharynx and the potential for aerosolization of blood and saliva during dental procedures, it is likely that transmission is common in this setting as well.

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