Importance of washing hands

You are at a risk of catching an infection every time you touch something and then touch your skin, eyes, nose or mouth with the same hand

woman washing handsYou are at a risk of catching an infection every time you touch something and then touch your skin, eyes, nose or mouth with the same hand. In fact, it is one of the most common ways of catching a cold or the flu. To avoid this, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta [USA] recommends frequent washing of hands.

According to Aruna Pujari, senior clinical microbiologist at the Breach Candy Hospital, washing your hands regularly is the first line of defence against the spread of almost 80 per cent of all diseases.

Many times a day

There are some critical times when your hands have to be cleansed, no excuses. These are:

  • Before handling a baby and after changing diapers.
  • Prior to eating or cooking food and after handling raw meat.
  • Before handling/meeting a patient or tending a sore and after touching a wound or visiting a health facility.
  • After using the toilet or touching anything dirty.
  • Before wearing contact lenses.
  • After sneezing, coughing or using a tissue.
  • After helping someone with a runny nose

How to wash your hands

Most of us believe that visibly clean hands minus dirt or smells are safe. However, just holding hands under running water will not eliminate the harmful microscopic pathogens.

A careful scrub with soap or antibacterial liquid and water is essential. For most of us doing this means working up a lather with a soap, many a times while holding it under running water, placing it aside and simply washing away the soapy feel. Well, that’s not how it should be.

  1. Wet your hands and apply enough soap.
  2. Rub palms together for at least 20 seconds.
  3. Rub between your fingers as well as up to the wrist.
  4. Rinse well with clean water.
  5. Dry with a clean towel immediately. Never leave hands wet for long, since it’s easier to attract dirt on wet surfaces.
  6. Clean nails too as they are a vital but ignored part of hand hygiene.

Excess is bad

Yes, washing hands is crucial to good health, but excess could lead to skin irritations. Even in case of children, it is important to expose them to some amount of germs in their growing years to build immunity. Kids with almost no exposure to germs tend to fall ill frequently. As in everything else in life, keeping a balance helps here too.

Did you know?

The current World Health Organization [WHO] motto is ‘clean your hands and save lives’—because more handwashing with soap means lower rates of infectious disease.

Every year WHO [World Health Organization] conducts Global Handwashing Day [October 15] to spread awareness; there are programmes that reach the grassroots of hygiene since that’s where good health begins.

The WHO celebrates the Global Handwashing Day since 2008. It is a week-long activity that mobilise millions of people world-wide to wash their hands with soap. Although WHO intends to bring down the general incidence of disease through this initiative, the principle goal is to reduce the deaths among children under the age of five by two-thirds by 2015.

What’s new about it

Here are the two latest additions in hand washing techniques:

Antibacterial soap

These soaps are effective in killing bacteria, thereby preventing many a disease. The active ingredient in most is triclosan, an antibacterial agent. However, you need to use these with care, since in the long run there could be a build up of bacterial resistance.

Alcohol rubs

These are effective when soap or water is not available. A good rub must contain a high per cent of alcohol to kill germs. The base of most of these is isopropyl alcohol or ethanol. However, these come with limitations—they dry the skin out in the long run. Also, they are not useful against spore-bearing organisms. In such cases, the good old soap and water method works the best.

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 20 years of experience in journalism, she has over four hundred articles in print in leading magazines across the globe.


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