Importance of washing hands

Washing your hands is the first step to good health

Washing handsOur hands are primary means of contact with the world around us. They form a bridge between our bodies and our surroundings, especially on this side of the Suez, where eating directly with hands is a common practice.

As a child, you may have often wondered why your parents were so insistent that you washed hands first before you sat down to eat.

As one of the simplest and most effective of health rules, the importance of washing hands has surprisingly been under-rated all these years. Apart from preventing minor infections such as fever, flu and cold, which spread very rapidly from hand-to-mouth/nose contact, the simple act of washing your hands can offer protection from major illnesses ranging from hepatitis-A to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome [SARS]. The outbreak of this disease in Asia has only re-enforced the urgency of this key act of hygiene.

Lather up

If you are in the practice of washing your hands, several times a day, harsh detergents can be hard on tender skin, stripping it of its moisture and forcing it to become dry and chapped. Use a mild moisturising soap. Studies have proved that anti-bacterial soap is far more effective in killing germs than any regular bar. Ensure that your soap is anti-bacterial with minimal chemicals and is reasonably mild enough to prevent the drying of sensitive skin.

Hand wash better than disinfectants

Researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, US, compared the effectiveness of old-fashioned soap and water to the latest alcohol-based anti-bacterial rubs and hand wipes commonly found in hospitals.

The results published in The American Journal of Infection Control prove that soap and water work better with repeated use because water removes the germs more effectively and completely. Emily Sickbert-Bennett, a public-health epidemiologist for UNC Hospitals, who helped letter the study, says: "[With] the waterless rubs and wipes, you never rinse your hands. You are just rubbing a chemical into your hand and letting it dry." You are, therefore, never completely rid of the germs in this approach. They are always on the surface, albeit curtailed by the chemicals in disinfectant lotions.

Emily says hand gels are less effective if hands are visibly soiled, citing a recent case in North Carolina, where children became violently sick by a strain of E coli bacteria, which they contracted after petting animals in the zoo. Well, if you have just done a heavy bout of handshaking and there is no sink in sight, a gel or disinfectant scrub will reduce your chance of contracting an infection. The natural ways are best, though!

The results of the study just didn't bring home the importance of hand-washing to ordinary folks alone; it also highlighted the need for doctors, people handling food on a daily basis in the service industry across the world, and even baby-sitters, teachers and others, who have close contact with children, to adopt the hand wash approach to ridding oneself of germs. The best part - your hands also continue to be clean longer, even when the last traces of soap is washed off.

Prevention better

Prevention is certainly better than cure and hand wash continues to be the best way to completely avoid germs.

Flushing the micro-organisms that cause disease down the sink, rather than into your stomach, not only saves you the trauma of pain and unnecessary expense, it also ensures that you remain in the pink of health and productivity for a longer time as well. Ultimately, it helps build a strong body and powerful immune system.

Wash-o-metrics

In order to maintain proper hygiene, you should wash your hands thoroughly before meals, after you use the toilet, even when you come home from a public place [for instance, a shopping trip or a day at the cinema]. Don't forget to lather in hard to reach corners [between every finger and the palm of your hand.]

Don't just lather and rinse in a few seconds. If you want the germs to truly die, you have to spend a few minutes over your hand wash routine. Hunger or a severe lack of time may have you rushing through it, too quickly. As a rule, sing "happy birthday" to yourself rapidly, three times in succession as you work up lather and rinse.

Anti-microbial soaps are more effective than regular soap at removing bacteria because they contain a chemical that binds to your hands and retain cleanliness long after the soap has been rinsed off.

Remember - when it comes to the building blocks of complete wellbeing, mother knows best!

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

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Kamala Thiagarajan
Kamala Thiagarajan is a Madurai-based journalist. Her writing interests encompass a host of genres including travel, health, entertainment and lifestyle. She is a full-time freelance journalist who works from her home in Madurai, South India. With ten years of experience in journalism, she has over four hundred articles in print in leading magazines across the globe. Her writing spans a variety of travel, health, entertainment and lifestyle features read by a diverse audience in over seven count

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