If you’re like most people, you’ve probably thought more about hand hygiene in the last year than you have in your entire life. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been bombarded with messages about how we need to keep our hands clean and how to wash our hands properly. Many of us have been ashamed to admit that we probably didn’t pay enough attention to hand hygiene before and have made an effort to improve this!
However, hand hygiene has always been essential, not just in the context of COVID-19. Read on to learn why hand hygiene is so important at all times, and why you should continue to be vigilant in this regard even when COVID-19 fades to a distant memory.
Is Hand Hygiene Really Such a Big Deal?
The simple answer to this question? A resounding yes. We are constantly using our hands: to pick up things, open doors, text on our phones, eat, scratch our face, and much more. Every time we do so, we may pick up or transfer germs in the environment. For example, if you touch a doorknob that has bacteria on it and then touch your face, the bacteria can enter your body. Similarly, if you are sick with a cold and rub your runny nose and then touch, say a supermarket trolley, the next person to touch that trolley may pick up the viruses you left behind.
One of the major sources of germs in our environment is faeces from people or animals. The CDC tells us that just one gram of human faeces can contain one million germs. This includes nasty bacteria like Salmonella, E. col 0157, and norovirus that cause diarrhea, as well as respiratory diseases including adenovirus and hand-foot-mouth disease. These germs can get on our hands after we go to the toilet or change our baby’s nappy, as well as handling raw meat that can be covered in microscopic particles of animal faeces.
This is important not only for individuals, but also professional sectors, particularly healthcare. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), thousands of people die every day from infections they pick up while receiving healthcare. Furthermore, hands are the main point of germ transmission in healthcare. Therefore, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals must maintain the highest levels of hand hygiene to avoid this.
The Consequences of Poor Hand Hygiene
Keeping your hands clean is one of the most effective ways to avoid the spread of infection. We touch our eyes, nose, and mouth with our hands all the time, often without realising it. These parts of our face are part of our respiratory and digestive systems, and so provide a pathway for germs to enter the body. Equally, touching or scratching your skin can transfer germs to your skin and cause a skin infection.
Washing your hands frequently prevents any germs you’ve picked up from entering your body and therefore making you sick, as well as avoiding you spreading germs to other people when you’re sick. The effectiveness of hand washing is evident in the result we see when people are taught about the subject.
According to the CDC, teaching communities about hand washing:
- Cuts diarrhea illness by up to 40%, and 58% in people with weakened immune systems
- Reduces respiratory illnesses like colds by 21%
- Reduces the rates that school children miss school due to gastrointestinal illness by up to 57%
This indicates that improper hygiene is directly linked to the rates of gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases. These infections not only cause illness and lead to people missing school and work, but they can also be deadly. Diarrheal diseases and pneumonia are the top two killers of young children worldwide, killing 1.8 million children under the age of five every year.
How to Practice Exemplary Hand Hygiene
We’ve seen how important it is to keep your hands clean, but how do you achieve this exactly? It may seem simple, but proper hand hygiene does involve developing certain habits and sticking to them. One of the key things about hand hygiene is consistency – it’s something you need to keep on top of all the time.
The key fundamentals of hand hygiene are:
- Wash your hands with soap and running water
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, lathering them together with the soap, and making sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails
- If this is not possible, sanitise your hands with a sanitiser containing at least 70% alcohol
- Wash your hands frequently, but particularly before and after eating, preparing food, going to the toilet, or going out in public
If you run a business, it part of your responsibility to your staff, visitors, and the wide community to promote and facilitate excellent hand hygiene. Experts like PhsInterclean can help you to do just this, by providing infrastructure and tools like hand sanitizer stations that make it easy for everyone in your business to keep their hair clean.