Don’t underestimate the importance of washing hands

In wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the age-old wisdom of prevention being better than cure has gained prominence. Washing your hands with soap and water remains one of the best preventive habits to keep infections at bay

washing hands with soap and water in a basin

Our hands are the 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 insisted on washing hands with soap and water 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] and now the coronavirus. The severe outbreak of COVID-19 across the world has only re-enforced the urgency of this key act of hygiene.

Soap and water is more effective than hand sanitizers

A few years ago, 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-microbial 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 hand sanitizers. Emily says hand sanitizers 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.

One study actually found that using alcohol-based hand sanitizers for routine hand hygiene actually increased the risk of outbreaks of novovirus, the highly contagious virus that causes most cases of acute gastroenteritis.

Well, if you have just done a heavy bout of handshaking and there is no sink in sight, a gel or hand sanitizer 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 is your best bet

When new diseases surface, prevention is our best bet and washing hands continues to be the best way to completely avoid picking infections from contaminated surfaces.

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 a robust immune system.

Tip

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. Ensure that your soap contains minimal chemicals and is reasonably mild to prevent the drying of sensitive skin. Antibacterial soaps offer no significiant advantage over regular soaps, but often contain harsh chemicals that are best avoided. So stick to regular soaps.

The right way to wash your hands

In order to maintain proper hygiene, you should wash your hands thoroughly before meals, after you use the toilet and when you come home after visiting a public place [for instance, a shopping trip or a day at the mall or your office].

Don’t forget to lather in hard to reach corners [between every finger and the palm of your hand.] And 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.

Remember – when it comes to the building blocks of health and wellbeing, your mother knows best!

IMPORTANT!

Until the pandemic is declared to be over, always wear a face mask when stepping out. Maintain a distance of six feet while interacting with office colleagues, associates and others. Wash your hands with soap and water frequently. Use a hand-sanitizer when outdoors.

If you have COVID-19 or suspect that you do, but have mild symptoms, including mild fever, cough or sore throat, you should self-quarantine right away. Those with more serious symptoms, such as high fever, chills, weakness, lethargy or shortness of breath and headaches should seek medical care immediately. It is imperative that you seek medical attention if the symptoms persist or worsen beyond 7 to 10 days.

This article was last updated on

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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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