Word on Health

Word On Handwashing

Studies show that handwashing frequently and properly during the day with hot water and soap every time you've been to the toilet, and before and after preparing food, is one of the most important ways of controlling the spread of infections especially those that cause diarrhoea, vomiting, and respiratory disease. 

Our grateful thanks to Professor Sally Bloomfield from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for her contribution to our 'on-air' report which you can hear via our radio player below.  As you will hear if we all got into the routine of regular hand washing - the results in terms of reducing the spread of infections could be immense!   

Hand Hygiene Facts

  • We have between 2 and 10 million bacteria between our fingertip and elbow.
  • Germs can stay alive on hands for up to three hours
  • The most common way germs are spread is by people’s hands. Germs are often harmless but they can also cause illnesses such as colds, flu and tummy bugs.
  • The number of germs on your fingertips doubles after you use the toilet.
  • Salmonella, Campylobacter, MRSA, flu, diarrhoea and sickness, the common cold, impetigo, – these are just some of the viruses and infections passed between people who do not wash their hands.
  • Up to half of all men and a quarter of women fail to wash their hands after they’ve been to the toilet.
  • When visiting a friend or relative in hospital or other environments where healthcare is provided, it is important to ensure that you clean your hands in order to help prevent the spread of infection.
  • Encouraging children to wash their hands at appropriate times will help to ensure that this practice becomes a lifelong habit.

Best handwashing practices  Conventionally, the use of soap and warm running water and the washing of all surfaces thoroughly, including under fingernails is seen as necessary. One should rub wet, soapy hands together outside the stream of running water for at least 20 seconds, before rinsing thoroughly and then dry your hands with a clean towel, disposable or otherwise. It has been shown that the use of a towel is a necessary part of effective contaminant removal since the washing action separates the contaminants from the skin but does not completely flush them from the skin - removing the excess water (with the towel) also removes the suspended contaminants.

Always wash hands after using the toilet, before eating or handling food, and after handling animals. Cover all cuts and abrasions with waterproof dressings.  

Effective drying of the hands is an essential part of the hand hygiene process, but there is some debate over the most effective form of drying in washrooms. A growing volume of research suggests paper towels are much more hygienic than the electric hand dryers found in many washrooms.

A hand sanitizer or hand antiseptic is a non-water-based hand hygiene agent. In the late 1990s and early part of the 21st century, Alcohol rub non-water-based hand hygiene agents (also known as alcohol-based hand rubs, antiseptic hand rubs, or hand sanitizers) began to gain popularity. Most are based on isopropyl alcohol or ethanol formulated together with a thickening agent such as Carbomer into a gel, or a humectant such as glycerin into a liquid, or foam for ease of use and to decrease the drying effect of the alcohol.

Hand sanitizers containing a minimum of 60 to 95% alcohol are efficient germ killers. They are most effective against bacteria and less effective against some viruses.

Alcohol rub sanitizers kill bacteria, multi-drug resistant bacteria (MRSA and VRE), tuberculosis, and some viruses (including HIV, herpes, RSV, rhinovirus, vaccinia, influenza, and hepatitis) and fungus.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are almost entirely ineffective against norovirus or Norwalk type viruses, the most common cause of contagious gastroenteritis

Alcohol rub sanitizers are more effective at preventing the spread of pathogens than soap and water. The increasing use of these agents is based on their ease of use and rapid killing activity against micro-organisms, however, they should not serve as a replacement for proper hand washing unless soap and water are unavailable.

Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.