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Annual Clean Your Hands Day: Hand Hygiene

May 5, 2020

May 5 is the World Health Organization’s annual Clean Your Hands Day. Hand hygiene was never more important than it is now. For the past several weeks, there have been public service announcements, advertisements, speeches, and more reminding the public that hand washing is the best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), proper hand washing with soap and water would protect 1 of every 3 children around the world who become ill with diarrhea, which can be very contagious depending on the cause. Another 1 of 5 children would be protected from respiratory infections like pneumonia.

Hand hygiene is an effective infection prevention tool

Hand washing doesn’t prevent all infections, like those you might get from direct contact with a sick person or through the exchange of body fluids. But proper and thorough hand washing does significantly cut down on infections that are transmitted by touch.  If a person with an infection like COVID-19 or influenza touches a surface, they may leave behind the virus for someone else to pick up if they touch the same surface and then their mouth, nose, or eyes. The infection has then spread.

Best hand hygiene uses soap and water

Many people rinse their hands in water but don’t actually wash them. There may not be any soap available or they may be in a rush. But even if you are using running water to rinse your hands, you aren’t removing many of the germs. Soap doesn’t kill the germs but it helps remove them and soap can break down some viruses, making them unable to spread. Of course, rinsing with water is better than nothing if soap isn’t available, but it isn’t the most ideal way of washing your hands.

Liquid soap is better than bar soap if you have a choice. Bars sit wet next to the sink and bacteria can accumulate on the soap. Large containers of liquid soap can also become contaminated. A study from 2011 found that the soap least likely to become contaminated are sealed bottles: “…washing with soap from dispensers with sealed refills significantly reduced bacteria on hands …”, the authors wrote.

Hand hygiene includes proper drying

Hand hygiene doesn’t stop with washing. Wet hands can spread germs too effectively. Pat your hands dry with a clean paper or cloth towel. Don’t rub, especially if you’re washing your hands more often than usual. This can cause friction and your skin may become raw and break down.

Using alcohol cleansers

If you don’t have access to soap and water, your next line of defence is with an alcohol-based hand cleanser. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that the cleanser have no less than 60% alcohol in the ingredients for it to be effective. The process of cleaning your hands with sanitizer is the same as with soap and water. Unlike soap, these cleansers may kill some germs, but they don’t kill all.

Hand washing is a simple action that can save lives – yours and the lives of others.

Learn more about infection and sepsis prevention here.