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My Name Is NOT Cancer

Good Handwashing!

Today (October 15th 2012) is Global Handwashing Day, when the practice of good handwashing with soap tops the international hygiene agenda (but should be top of our agenda EVERY day!)

Global Handwashing Day identifies that although people around the world wash their hands with water, many don`t wash their hands with soap at critical moments - including after going to the toilet and before handling or eating food! Using soap when washing your hands is among the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrhoea, vomiting and pneumonia, and goes a long way in preventing the spread of viral infections such as norovirus, rotavirus and influenza (the flu)

Good Handwashing Practice is important... and even more so when it comes to hygiene in cancer care as many people experience neutropenia due to the effects of cancer and its treatment. Neutropenia is an abnormally low level of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell which help the body fight infection by destroying harmful bacteria and fungi - such as yeast - that invade the body.

A number of people having cancer treatment, especially chemotherapy, will experience low neutrophils at some point and because neutropenia doesn`t cause any symptoms, patients usually find out they are neutropenic from blood test results or when an infection develops! For patients with neutropenia, even a minor infection can quickly become serious so Good Handwashing Practice is an essential part of care. It`s important to manage risk and avoid infection so be aware of the signs of infection... and tell your medical team if you have:

  • a fever (temperature of 38ºC or higher)
  • chills or sweating
  • sore throat, mouth or toothache
  • abdominal (tummy) pain
  • pain, burning or frequent urination
  • diarrhoea or sores round your bottom (anus)
  • a cough or shortness of breath
  • any redness, swelling, pain - particularly around a cut, wound or an intravenous site (including Central Lines or PICC Lines)
  • an unusual vaginal discharge or itching

Anyone coping with cancer (especially with neutropenia) can lower the likelihood of developing a serious infection by paying close attention to personal hygiene - and having a Good Handwashing Practice can certainly help! Follow the five step rule to wash your hands using soap and water:

  1. Rub palms together
  2. Wash the top of each hand
  3. Interlock fingers and rub up and down (tip of fingers to the base)
  4. Rub the centre of your palm
  5. With fingers closed, hook your fingers together and rub your nails

It only takes 14 repetitions to create a habit - so create a Good Handwashing Practice and make it a habit of a lifetime!

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