If you think that hand washing is only for kids and health workers, think again. According to health experts, hand washing is the most effective way to prevent the spread of diseases and infections. They say that a number of infectious diseases such as pinworms, common colds, hepatitis A, meningitis, salmonella, and influenza can be prevented from spreading simply by washing your hands.
The importance of handwashing cannot be overemphasized as history tells us how sanitation and handwashing saved thousands of lives because an Austrian-Hungarian physician by the name of Ignaz Semmelweis insisted that student physicians in the hospital that he worked washed their hands before touching maternity patients.
Doctors’ students had been working on corpses in an Anatomy class and then proceeded to perform their rounds in the maternity ward without washing their hands. This experiment proved successful when maternity deaths decreased fivefold. Yet it took 50 more years before hand washing would become the norm in the medical profession.
Why Should You Wash Your Hands?
1) Germs make people sick.
Germs gain access to the body as they are transferred from one person to another or from contact with contaminated surfaces. Once inside the body, the germs avoid the body’s immune system and start producing toxins that make you sick.
Bacteria, viruses, and parasites are the most commonly known causes of food-borne diseases and food poisoning.
2) You can’t see germs but they are everywhere.
Germs such as bacteria and viruses are microscopic and not visible to the naked eye. But just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. As a matter of fact, some bacteria reside on your skin and some live inside of you.
You may not be aware but germs commonly reside on everyday objects such as cellphones, office desks, toothbrushes, etc., and they can be transferred to your hands when you touch them.
3) Washing your hands prevents the spread of germs.
Properly washing your hands eliminates the dirt and germs that can be spread to others. People, especially kids, don’t realize it but they frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth which give the germs access to the body and cause illnesses.
Washing your hands also helps prevent the spread of skin and eye infections. Simply washing your hands can help prevent the spread of bacteria such as MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), Clostridium difficile, E. coli and Salmonella.
4) Washing your hands keeps you healthy.
The major benefit of frequent hand washing is that it keeps you healthy. It also helps keep your environment clean which prevents germs from spreading to others. Properly washing and drying your hands will reduce your risk of getting sick with diarrhea and getting a respiratory illness.
5) Washing your hands saves you a hospital stay.
The healthier you are, the less likely you will have to spend on expensive medical treatment at a hospital or emergency care clinic. Washing your hands with soap and water is definitely an inexpensive means of preserving your health and the health of those around you.
Handwashing and the Coronavirus
As the Coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, many health agencies are advising people to be extra vigilant about keeping their hands clean. Experts agree that handwashing is the most effective method in preventing the spread of preventable infectious diseases such as coronavirus.
In fact, an MIT study has found that boosting handwashing rates at airports around the world could slow a potential pandemic by 24% – 69%.
A Quick Primer on Hand Hygiene
When done right, hand hygiene can dramatically reduce the number of germs and bacteria on your hands. There are two main elements of hand hygiene:
A. Washing your hands after certain activities or interactions
B. Cleaning your hands effectively
When to Wash Your Hands
You should wash your hands properly:
- before, during and after food preparation.
- between handling raw and cooked food. (It is advisable to have separate chopping boards for raw and cooked or ready-to-eat foods.)
- before and after eating or drinking.
- after using the toilet and changing nappies.
- after touching animals.
- after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose.
- before and after attending to sick family members.
- after handling rubbish or working in the garden.
- upon getting home from work.
If you are a healthcare worker, you should apply the Five Moments for Hand Hygiene from the World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care. The said guidelines define the key moments for hand hygiene to overcome misleading language and complicated descriptions as it presents a unified vision in overcoming the spread of Health Acquired Infections (HAI).
Furthermore, it is interwoven with the natural workflow of care and is designed not only to be easily learned but also logical and applicable in a wide range of settings.
Five Moments for Hand Hygiene
The 5 moments for hand hygiene approach requires health workers to wash their hands:
- before touching a patient.
- after touching a patient.
- before clean or aseptic procedures.
- after body fluid exposure.
- after touching the patient’s surroundings.
How to Properly Wash Your Hands
The handwashing technique may sound simple, but to be effective it must be done correctly. Below is an illustration image of the recommended hand washing techniques from the World Health Organization (WHO). The duration of the entire procedure is 40-60 seconds.
The Use of Hand Sanitizers
While washing with soap and water is the recommended means to clean your hands, an alcohol-based sanitizer with 60-95% alcohol can be used when soap and water are not available. The use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers has increased in the health care field as well as the general public since 1995.
The use of hand sanitizers is convenient as you can transport small bottles into your pocket, purse, car or simply keep a small amount at your work station or desk and it takes you only about 15 seconds to clean your hands.
Hand washing should become second nature – and should do frequently because you never know when you’ve come into contact with germs. The practice of hand washing is no longer only a means of personal hygiene but an important measure of infection control. Frequent hand washing applying the proper techniques minimizes the incidence of transmitting infectious diseases.
Hand washing should not be optional but a rule to be strictly followed in order to protect your health and those around you. Stay healthy by practicing proper hand washing techniques; because health is wealth!
The video below illustrates the proper handwashing procedure applying the 12 steps.
Video Credits: World Health Organization (WHO)