Whether you are at home or traveling abroad, good hand hygiene is important to prevent illnesses. As the Center for Disease Control (CDC) states, “clean hands saves lives” and “handwashing is like a do-it-yourself vaccine”. Our hands comes in direct contact with all types of substances in our environment. And it has the closest interaction with the entrances to our internal body, namely the mouth and nose. It is therefore very easy for germs that we touch in our environment to gain entry into our body via the hands.
Infections Via The Hand
Microbes can travel through the air, water or food. It may also be present on inanimate objects referred to as fomites. Although we live in a world dominated by microbes, the human body has adapted to withstand the potential danger. Our skin acts as a physical barrier to prevent the entry of these microbes. Even our mouth and nose have defensive measures like saliva to eliminate some microbes or mucus to trap microbes.
However, once these microbes enter deeper into the body it can cause an infection if the immune system cannot neutralize it. Many of the common infections we know of is contracted by microbes on the hands even if you are very careful about what you eat or drink and the air that you breathe. By practising good hand hygiene, you can greatly reduce your risk of falling ill. It is vital for every person to practice good hand hygiene but more so for people with weakened immune systems.
Every time you bring your hand to your mouth and nose, you may be on the verge on infecting yourself. Microbes are not visible to the naked eye. Even if your hands look, feel and smell clean, it could be harboring a number of organisms that can make you ill. Some may cause acute infections while others can lead to deadly infections that may be incurable. Therefore prevention of infections through good hand hygiene is imperative.
Rinse Before Soaping
Firstly you should rinse your hands thoroughly under running water. Rub lightly to get off any visible dust and dirt with plain water and no soap. Warm to hot water is a better option but do not use very hot water that will burn the skin. Do not fill the tub or sink with water to rinse the hands. Standing water will only allow the contaminants to spread to all parts of the hand once dissolved in water and even splash onto other parts of the body. Running water is essential as it will wash away all the loose particles on your skin.
Lather Well With Soap
You can use liquid or powder soap or a bar of soap to lather your hands. Antiseptic soap is preferable as it can destroy many different types of microbes. Apply a sufficient quantity of soap on your hands and start rubbing together. Ensure that you rub between the fingers, the back of your hands and on the fingertips. Continue rubbing for at least 20 seconds until your hands are well lathered. Extend beyond the wrist to at least the first third of your forearm. Gentle rubbing will suffice. There is no need to scrub with a brush unless you have dirt stuck to your hand.
Rinse Again And Dry Hands
After thorough lathering, you should rinse and rub your hands for a few seconds even after all visible soap has washed away. Once again use warm water if possible.If you are doubtful about whether your hands are sufficiently clean, then repeat the entire procedure. After rinsing thoroughly, you need to dry your hands in a way that will not contaminate it again. Use a clean dry towel or dry air to remove all water. Disposable paper towels that are clean are sometimes a better option if available. It should be disposed off immediately after using.
Be Careful About Recontamination
You can easily recontaminate your hands before you finish your entire cleaning procedure. It often happens in the bathroom or washroom where you are cleaning your hands. Touching a contaminated faucet or door knob will mean that some of the microbes are back on your hands. Pouring water over the faucet may wash away some microbes but not all. Rather use your towel to turn off the faucet. Leave the room door open before you start washing your hands so you do not have to to touch the knob again to exit. Alternatively use the towel to turn the door handle.
Here are some of the optimal times to wash your hands. Follow the handwashing procedure above before you start any of these activities.
- Preparing any food, and in between handling uncooked and cooked food.
- Eating any meal, even if you are using cutlery.
- Touching any person, especially a baby or an elderly and frail person.
- Brushing or flossing your teeth.
- Tending to a cut or wound.
- Handling any common objects in the house, like a remote control.
You should not put your fingers in your mouth for any reason, apart from eating or cleaning your teeth. If you have to for whatever other reason, then ensure that you thoroughly wash your hands first.
It is important to wash after certain activities to minimize your risk of contracting and spreading infections. Always wash after the following activities:
- Preparing food, especially when handling raw meat or vegetables with soil.
- Using the toilet (irrespective of whether you urinate or defecate).
- Changing a baby’s diaper.
- Cleaning the toilet.
- Sneezing, blowing your nose or coughing.
- Handling animals (including pets) or touching animal excrement.
- Touching garbage.
Look and Think Before Touching
Sometimes your best defense against microbes on the hand that can cause an infection is not contaminating your hands in the first place. Sometimes it is not necessary to touch an item that could contaminate your hands. Stop, look and think about whether you need to touch something before putting your hands on it. Learn to use your other senses like vision and smell without touching where possible. Try to use rubber or latex gloves when you have to touch something that is potentially contaminated, but still wash afterwards.