Hand “breathalyzer” encourages hand washing

By • Published: November 10th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Children can usually count on mothers to remind them to wash their hands. Frequent hand washing can help prevent infections by stopping the spread of viruses and bacteria.

But sometimes adults need a little help in the hand-washing department too.

One-hundred-sixty years ago, a Hungarian physician suggested doctors who moved directly from working with cadavers to delivering babies could reduce fatal cases of birth-related infection by washing their hands.

Nowhere is good hand hygiene more important than in health-care settings, where organisms such as MRSA [MERSA] and V-R-E can lead to hospital-acquired infections.

Millions of hospital-acquired infections and thousands of related deaths occur each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A team of University of Florida inventors has devised a system to encourage health-care workers wash their hands more often.

Called HyGreen, it functions as a “breathalyzer for the hands” by detecting sanitizer or soap fumes.

First, a health-care worker squirts sanitizer gel or soap onto the hands, and holds them under a wall-mounted sensor. A wireless signal from the worker’s badge activates a green light on the sensor. When the worker enters a patient’s room, another monitor near the bed communicates with the badge and flashes green if the worker has washed. If not, or if too much time has passed between washing and approaching the patient, the badge will give a gentle “reminder” vibration.

But HyGreen isn’t just for health care… it could potentially be used by food service, day care and other workers to help protect the health of the public. So don’t be surprised if one of these days it shows up at a fast-food place near you.