We use small files called cookies to help us improve your experience on this website and to provide services like web chat. We also use cookies to measure the effectiveness of public health campaigns and understand how people use the website.

Read our cookies policy to find out more about cookies and how we use them.

Hand hygiene: Health Care Associated Infections

Clean hands save lives

Cleaning your hands properly, at the correct time, when delivering care to patients, is the most effective way to stop the spread of many common infections.

When healthcare workers like doctors, nurses and carers, keep their hands clean, they help prevent the spread of serious healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs).

These are infections that can happen during healthcare delivery in hospitals, residential facilities, outpatient services and even in the patient's home.

Avoiding common infections

Common infections that can be avoided by properly cleaning your hands include:

  • colds and flu
  • runny noses and chest infections
  • many tummy bugs that cause diarrhoea and vomiting
  • eye infections like conjunctivitis
  • food related bugs that can be spread when cooking or barbecuing food
  • serious healthcare-associated infections like CPE, Norovirus, MRSA etc.

Many of these infections are common in children, so parents and childcare workers should make sure that children wash their hands regularly.

Some infections found in healthcare facilities like hospitals can be very serious and sometimes fatal. We can help stop the spread of these infections by making sure that healthcare workers, patients and visitors all make sure that their hands are clean.

Why we need clean hands

We need clean hands because:

  • thousands of people die every day around the world as a result of healthcare-associated infections.
  • clean hands at the right time using the correct method is the single most important measure to stop the spread of harmful germs.

Who needs to clean their hands:

  • every person who provides care in all healthcare facilities and in the patient’s home
  • everyone delivering care should know why, how and when to clean their hands.

When to clean your hands

It is recommended that we clean our hands according to the World Health Organisation's 5 moments for hand hygiene approach:

  1. before touching a patient
  2. before clean/aseptic procedures
  3. after body fluid exposure/risk
  4. after touching a patient
  5. after touching patient surroundings

When to use alcohol-based rubs

Use an alcohol-based rub, as long as your hands are not visibly soiled. Alcohol-based rubs are more accessible than sinks, take less time, are very effective and kinder to your hands. They should be widely available at the point of care in healthcare facilities.

Small, transportable containers should also be carried by healthcare workers travelling to patients’ homes.

When to use soap and water

Wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly soiled or when providing care to anyone with diarrhoea or during outbreaks of Clostridium difficile.

Clean your hands with soap and water immediately:

  • before each episode of direct patient contact or care.
  • before a clean/aseptic procedure.
  • after contact with body fluids or excretions mucous membranes, non-intact skin or wound dressings.
  • after each episode of direct patient contact or care.
  • after contact with objects and equipment in the immediate patient environment.


More information