‘Washing hands has saved more lives than any medical breakthrough in a generation’
A 2012 headline in Daily Mail, UK. Major campaign towards hand washing began around that time and soap and alcohol bought for the purpose almost trebled!
Lately, in India, a lot is being spoken about ‘washing hands’ – frequently and properly – both in print media as well as TV commercials.
For a change this time media is not trying to misguide!
Some important statistics
- It is estimated that washing hands with soap and water reduces diarrheal disease-associated deaths by up to 50%
- Researchers in London estimate that if everyone routinely washed their hands, a million deaths a year could be prevented
- A large percentage of foodborne disease outbreaks (jaundice, typhoid, gastro enteritis) are spread by contaminated hands. Appropriate hand washing practices can reduce the risk of foodborne illness and other infections.
- Hand washing can reduce the risk of respiratory infections (colds & coughs) by 16%
- The use of an alcohol gel hand sanitizer in the classroom provided an overall reduction in kids missing school due to infection by 19.8% among 16 elementary schools and 6,000 students
- The single most significant preventive measure for H1N1 & now Ebola viral disease have been hand washing
Why is hand washing so important?
Throughout the day we are in direct contact with people or objects which have germs on them. By touching these people or objects, germs get transferred to our hands and then we touch our nose, eyes and mouth and, in the process, infect ourselves and similarly may spread it to others as well. Although it’s impossible to keep our hands germ-free, washing our hands frequently & meticulously will help restrict the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other harmful micro-organisms.
Hand washing with soap and water is not a new concept and has been considered a measure of personal hygiene for decades. Hand hygiene is now regarded as one of the most important element of infection control activities. The concept of cleansing hands with an antiseptic agent probably emerged in the early 19th century. Keeping hands clean is one of the best ways to control and prevent the spread of the infection.
What is the ideal (effective) way?
Hand-washing requires only soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer — a cleanser that doesn’t require water.
When should you wash your hands?
Both adults and children must wash their hands under the following circumstances
- Whenever they feel hands are dirty
- Always, before eating food
- Before, during and after preparing food items
- Before and after caring / touching for someone who is sick; this even applies after putting nasal eye, ear drops for someone.
- Before and after touching a cut or wound
- After touching raw meats like chicken, fish or meat
- After contact with any body fluids like blood, urine, sweat or vomit
- After changing infant or adult diapers
- After touching / playing with animals or pets
- After blowing nose, coughing or sneezing
- After going to the toilet
- After changing cleaning up a child after toilet
- After handling the garbage
What is the right way to wash your hands?
- Wet hands with clean, running water and then apply soap
- Create foam by rubbing them together with the soap, ensuring you apply the soap at the back of hands, between fingers and under the nails.
- The hands should be scrubbed for at least 20 seconds.
- After this, rinse hands well under clean, running water. Turn off the tap with either wrist or elbow so that the hands do not come in direct contact of the germs again. You may even pour some water over the tap.
- Always dry hands using a clean towel / tissue
We hear of alcohol based hand rubs, a lot lately?
Alcohol based preparations have two distinct advantages over soap and water:
- They kill many more germs
- They are less drying to our skin
Use alcohol rubs under the following circumstances
- When you do not find any visible soiling or dirt on your hands.
- If you come in contact with contaminated stuffs like nappies dirty tissues etc
- Before and after caring sick persons
- For routine cleaning of hands anytime to decontaminate them
- Also it can be used at places where you do not find soap and clean running water
Take home message
Start the habit of washing hands any time you find they have been soiled or are dirty or you are about to touch a food item – either to consume of give someone.
Dr Satish Kanojia, Practising Homoeopathy & Biochemic since last 20 years; He is Assistant editor of National Journal of Homoeopathy, India’s largest Homoeopathic Journal. Dr Satish has rich experience in writing research articles, creating MCQs, Academic Crosswords and Sudokus.