Many of us wash our hands because we’ve been taught that it’s a ‘good clean habit’. But hand washing is so much more than that. Hand washing, also called hand hygiene, can protect your quality of life, and can even save lives by preventing the spread of disease.
Fast Facts on Hand Hygiene
Washing your hands is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of germs. It’s a simple habit that protects you and others from getting sick.
Germs from unwashed hands can easily get into your system if you touch your face (mouth, nose or eyes). Unwashed hands can also spread infection to other people that you touch or shake hands with. You could be spreading something as simple as a common cold, or something much nastier like salmonella or E.coli.
It is essential to clean your hands whenever you have touched any sort of bacteria. Wash your hands using soap and clean running water after:
Using the bathroom
Changing a nappy
Handling raw meat
Touching contaminated objects or surfaces
Playing with pets or handling animals
Coughing or sneezing into your hands
Blowing your nose
Your hands should also be properly cleaned before handling food, taking care of a baby or child, or taking care of a sick person.
Warm, soapy water is the most effective way to rid your hands of germs. The soap works by lowering the surface tension of the water, making it easier for dirt, grime, oils and other germ-containing substances to move from your hands into the water and down the drain.
Health care organisations recommend a simple five-step process for proper hand washing: Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, Dry.
Wet your hands with running water (then close the tap)
Lather your hands with soap
Rub all surfaces of your hands for 15-20 seconds (Hint: Hum the tune of ‘happy birthday’ twice to reach your minimum time limit)
Rinse your hands thoroughly under running water
Dry your hands completely with a paper or cotton towel (moisture will transmit remaining bacteria)
If you have no soapy water available, apply an alcohol-based hand sanitiser thoroughly to clean your hands.
Usually, the source of bacteria (dirt, grime etc.) is obvious, but sometimes germs lurk in the most unexpected places. Studies have identified some surprising public surfaces with a high concentration of germs. These include restaurant menus, door handles in public buildings, and public bathroom soap dispensers. Be aware of the surfaces and items you’re handling when you’re out and about, so you can avoid them or clean your hands after contact.
Organisations like the WHO and the Clean The World Foundation are committed to raising awareness around how the simple act of hand washing can make the world a healthier place.
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