Hygiene is key to good health

The concept of hygiene is as old as civilisation. It still remains relevant - for more reasons than one

Child in bath-tubThe term, hygiene, originates from the Greek, Hygieia, the Goddess of Health, Cleanliness and Sanitation.

Many elaborate codes of hygiene can be found in several ancient Indian texts too. Some of the nitya [daily] karmas [duties], like bathing, for instance, seem to have influenced colonisers from Europe just as much as other cultures.

Some of our age-old hygienic practices received the strongest support in the germ theory of diseases, with many human ailments blamed on various microbes like viruses, bacteria and parasites. The promise was, and still is: we can prevent illness by way of clean habits.

In today’s parlance, hygiene is healthy living and maintenance of health – physical, mental and social. Hygiene is not just remaining clean, though, it also relates to peace and harmony within oneself and with one’s environs, including your surroundings and community living.

Wash well

Washing your hands is more than just wetting them with water. Remove jewellery, watch or obtrusive clothing, and wet your hands with warm water, wash vigorously for at least 30 seconds with a suitable soap and adequate lather, paying particular attention to creases and under nails. Now, rinse your hands and wipe dry with a clean towel. It is also advisable to keep your nails short in order to keep them clean.

Although obsessive and repeated washing with strong soaps can harm your skin, any breach caused by bruises or cuts to the skin can encourage microbes to cause infection. So, the best thing to do is: keep cuts and wounds clean, and avoid covering them with occlusive dressings which help germs prosper, thanks to heat and humidity. This is not all. Tattoos, including ear/nose piercing, are most susceptible to infection.

The body surface as well as fabrics, inner as well as outer wear, collect dust, sweat, and other secretions throughout the day and any strenuous physical activity only adds to the dirt. A daily bath with appropriate cleansers is a must for everyone, and may be repeated after any strenuous physical activity. Use of strong soaps and very hot water for bathing may be harmful for those with sensitive, potentially dry skin.

More than a mouthful

The mouth is a big playground for germs. When food particles stick to the teeth, or gums, they only aid the breeding of germs. Keep the oral cavity clean by brushing the teeth after each meal, or a minimum of twice a day, eliminating food particles, and ensuring good gum care. The habit of putting objects or fingers in the mouth should be discouraged. Foods that encourage proliferation of germs like sugar and sweets should also be avoided.

Droplets from a cough, or sneeze, are an important cause of spread of several infections. This can be prevented by placing a hand, or piece of cloth, or tissue, over the mouth to hold the “infection-fire.”

Secretions from the nose can also be highly infective. A runny nose, accompanied by sneezing, is another important source of dissemination of many viral infections. This can be minimised by delicately blowing or clearing the nostrils, one after the other, with a soft tissue held over the nose. This should be carefully disposed off.

The various objects that we exchange with others could also be potential sources of infection. As far as possible, avoid sharing hats, scarves, handkerchiefs, towels, hair brushes and the like. Also, wash your hands thoroughly – after you shake hands with a person bitten by a cold attack.

Best to be fresh

Hygiene matters a lot while travelling as water-borne diseases are quite common. Ensure that only clean, preferably boiled water, is used for consumption. Avoid eating from unhygienic sources.

To maintain good health, one has to be not only clean, but also lean, without extra flab. Of late, many of the so-called diseases of modern living – viz., high blood pressure, heart disease, lipid abnormalities, diabetes etc., are being increasingly attributed to the extra fat that we accumulate around our waists.

Changes in our food and lifestyle in this era of globalisation are leading causes for the explosion of epidemics. These can be best prevented by only going back to natural food and living.

All processed and junk food, sugars, sweets and soft drinks, milk and milk products should be avoided or minimised. Instead, fish, fresh vegetables, sprouts, nuts and berries should be eaten. Having an early supper, at least two hours before going to bed, is important.

It is also equally important to provide adequate relaxation to our body and mind. A sound sleep of 7-8 hours, at night, can keep many of our modern diseases away. Regular exercise, yoga, reading, and other hobbies, can also help us to unwind well and with good benefits.

The secret of a disease-free life and longevity is simple – leading a clean, natural lifestyle, and staying well. It

does not take much effort to achieve this balance… if only you have the will.

Handle with Care

We are exposed to potential disease-causing microbes and materials round the clock. Skin and the mucous membranes lining the gut and airways act as barriers protecting the body from external insults. These layers have their own array of millions of microbes, which act like a fulsome balancing ecosystem.

Sometimes, these affable barriers may turn hostile and cause infections to their host. Some areas like the humid skin [the spaces between the toes, the groin, the armpit, and hair-covered regions] where sweat, sebum and cell debris are abundant, not to speak of the oral cavity and the inner sides of the nose, are important bases for microbes.

Hands can carry a large number of these germs, gathered from the outside world, or from other areas of the body through direct or cross contact. These germs can be easily transferred to others, directly through the touch of the hand, or through objects “handled,” with kerchiefs, or keys, or mobile phones.

It is, therefore, important to wash your hands before handling anything to prevent infection, or after using the toilet etc.,

Srinivas Bevinje
Dr Srinivas Kakkilaya Bevinje, MD, is a Mangalore-based consultant physician. His areas of interest include metabolic medicine, infectious diseases, and community health.


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