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World Hand Hygiene Day: Why, How And When To Wash Hands?

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May 5th is observed as World Hand Hygiene Day every year. The theme for 2019 is “Clean care for all — it’s in your hands”. The aim is to spread awareness about the importance of clean hands to save lives.

How often do you wash your hands before going for meals?

Do you make sure to wash your hands after using the washroom?

Do you ever wash your hands before accepting any snack offered by your colleague?

Have you washed your hands after covering your mouth to cough or sneeze?

If the answers to any of these everyday situations is a NO, then it’s high time to know the importance of hand hygiene and its crucial role in helping us to stay healthy.

A proper hand hygiene ritual is the single most important, and least expensive means of reducing the prevalence of infections including hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) and limit the spread of antimicrobial resistance. It not only lowers your risk of infection but also helps you to stay healthy and hygienic. Moreover, it also helps you to prevent the spread of germs and infections to others and prevent you from getting sick. So this world hand hygiene day, let’s shed light on why it is important to wash the hands and also know when and how should you wash your hands.

Why Should YOU Wash Your Hands?

Most of us do not feel the need to wash hands before eating food but do make sure to wash our hands after meals. But it is as important to wash hands before eating food as washing it after eating as our hands are exposed to germs and dirt which make us vulnerable to contamination and can make us fall sick. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1.8 million people under 5 years of age die due to diarrhea. Hand washing alone can prevent around 1 in every 3 kids from diarrhea and 1 in every 5 children from respiratory infections[1].

Hand washing can reduce the number of people who get sick from diarrhea by around 40% and lower the risk of diarrhea in people with low immunity by 58%. It can also reduce respiratory illness by 21% and reduce absenteeism in school children due to gastrointestinal illness by 57%. Given the statistics, hand washing with soap and water is one of the most simple and effective ways to remove germs and prevent infections.

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When Should YOU Wash Your Hands?

Well, it goes without saying that you should wash your hands every time you visit a washroom or before and after eating anything. Apart from this, here are some everyday scenarios you should wash your hands such as:

-Before, during and after preparing and having your meals

-Before and after caring for someone who is sick

-Before and after treating a wound/burn or rash

-After changing diapers

-After cleaning up your child after a visit to the toilet

-After touching or handling a pet/animal

-After touching a garbage can

-After blowing your nose

-After sneezing/coughing and covering your mouth with hands

-After handling plants/soil or cleaning your house

How Should YOU Wash Your Hands?

The best way to wash your hands and prevent the germs from spreading and causing an infection is to use soap and water. There is no need to pick up an expensive soap or an antibacterial soap but using a normal one is sufficient to help you to get rid of dirt and germs. It is best to use running tap water but if it is not available, then you can use any stored or bottled water which is accessible. Here is a five-step guide to washing your hands with soap and water.

-Firstly, wet your hands with water and apply soap. You can even opt for liquid soap to wash your hands.

-Secondly, rub your hands till it forms a thick lather. While doing so, ensure that you cover the area in between the fingers, under your nails and the back of your hands.

-Thirdly, scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds as this helps to remove dirt and germs from the hands

-Fourthly, rinse your hands under tap water. Ensure the water is clean and not dirty or contaminated.

-Lastly, dry your hands with a clean towel or tissue. Also, use a tissue to close the top and open the door as these surfaces might be loaded with germs.

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If soap and water are not available, you can opt for alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands. But make sure to pick the one that contains at least 60% alcohol to ensure proper protection. Sanitizers can help to lower the risk but may not completely eliminate the risk of infection as it does not remove all the germs and harmful chemicals. Also, hand sanitizers may not be effective if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy. Here is how you should use a hand sanitizer.

-Cup your hands and take some product in your cupped palm.

-Rub both the palms against one another to cover the entire surface.

-Make sure to cover the area in between the fingers and the back of the hand

-Rub properly all over until your hands are dry.

This World Hand Hygiene Day, let’s pledge to keep our hands clean to protect against illness and stay healthy. Spread the word to your friends and family by sharing the article with them.

(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)

Recommended Reads:

Should You Use Paper Towels Or Hand Dryers?

Things You Did Not Know About Handwashing And Sanitizer

References:

1. Show Me the Science – Why Wash Your Hands? Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

2. When & How to Wash Your Hands. Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

3. Hand Hygiene: When and How. The World Health Organization (WHO).

4. Mathur P. Hand hygiene: back to the basics of infection control. Indian J Med Res. 2011 Nov;134(5):611-20.

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