Handwashing is a fundamental and essential practice in basic hygiene that helps to prevent the transmission and spread of infectious agents. Poor hygiene practices can have a significant impact on causing various infections, including those affecting the skin, respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal system. Respiratory and gastrointestinal infections are often associated with a lack of or poor handwashing methods.
Handwashing is the primary method of maintaining cleanliness and removing or reducing the burden of pathogens on the hands’ surface. Our hands naturally come into contact with various objects and surfaces that may harbor microorganisms capable of causing infections. Some microbes can survive for extended periods on surfaces and can easily be transmitted to individuals who touch them. This transmission can occur through direct contact or by shaking hands, and the infected individual can then pass it on to others.
Microorganisms that can be transmitted through poor hand hygiene include bacteria (such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Clostridium spp, Bacillus spp), viruses (including rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, orthomyxoviruses), fungi (such as fungal spores from Aspergillus, Candida spp, Dermatophytes), and parasites (including Ascaris lumbricoides, Entamoeba, Giardia, etc).
The recent outbreak of COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, has highlighted the critical importance of basic hygiene practices like handwashing in preventing the transmission and spread of the virus. However, basic hygiene practices are not only relevant during outbreaks but are essential for maintaining overall good health and preventing the spread of germs and infectious agents to uninfected individuals.
International health organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), have provided guidelines on proper handwashing techniques that should be practiced globally. These guidelines are not only important for the general population but also for healthcare workers to prevent the transmission of contagious and infectious microorganisms to patients, which can lead to severe infections and even death.
By following the guidelines set by these organizations, individuals can effectively perform handwashing and reduce the risk of transmitting and spreading infectious agents. Proper handwashing techniques involve using soap and water, thoroughly washing all surfaces of the hands (including palms, back of hands, between fingers, and under nails) for at least 20 seconds, and then rinsing off the soap thoroughly. If soap and water are not available, the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol content is recommended.
Regular and thorough handwashing should be practiced before and after certain activities, such as using the restroom, handling food, coughing or sneezing, caring for someone who is sick, and touching surfaces in public places. Adhering to these guidelines helps maintain personal hygiene, prevent the transmission of infections, and contribute to overall public health and well-being.
How Germs Spread?
Germs can easily spread from person to person or from contaminated surfaces to individuals. Understanding how germs spread is crucial for implementing effective preventive measures. Here are some ways in which germs can be transmitted:
- Touching the face: Germs can enter the body through the eyes, nose, and mouth. When you touch your face with unwashed hands, especially after coming into contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, you increase the risk of introducing germs into your system.
- Food and drink preparation: Failure to wash hands before handling or consuming food and drinks can lead to the transfer of germs. If your hands are contaminated, the germs can contaminate the food or beverages, which can then be ingested and cause infections.
- Touching contaminated surfaces or objects: Germs can survive on surfaces and objects for varying periods. When you touch these contaminated surfaces or objects and then touch your face or handle food without washing your hands, you can unknowingly transfer the germs and potentially infect yourself or others.
- Poor respiratory etiquette: When you blow your nose, cough, or sneeze into your hands and then touch other people’s hands or common objects without washing your hands, you can easily transmit germs. Respiratory droplets containing germs can land on your hands and transfer to others or contaminate objects that others may touch.
To prevent the spread of germs, it is essential to practice good hygiene habits, particularly hand hygiene. Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is effective in removing germs from your hands. Use hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol content when soap and water are not readily available.
Additionally, following proper respiratory etiquette by covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing can help reduce the release of respiratory droplets containing germs. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands and regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects to minimize the risk of germ transmission.
By understanding how germs spread and adopting preventive measures like regular handwashing, practicing respiratory etiquette, and maintaining cleanliness, you can help protect yourself and others from respiratory and diarrheal infections.
Key Times to Wash Hands
Proper handwashing is essential to prevent the spread of germs and maintain personal hygiene. There are key times when it is crucial to wash your hands thoroughly. Here are the recommended times to wash your hands:
- Before, during, and after preparing food: Washing your hands before handling food helps remove any contaminants that may be present on your hands. It is also important to wash your hands during food preparation, especially when switching between different ingredients. After handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs, it is essential to wash your hands to prevent cross-contamination.
- Before and after eating food: Cleaning your hands before eating helps prevent any germs from being transferred to your mouth and food. After eating, washing your hands removes any potential germs acquired during the meal.
- Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea: When caring for someone who is ill, particularly with vomiting or diarrhea, it is important to wash your hands before and after providing care. This helps prevent the spread of any pathogens that may be present.
- Before and after treating a cut or wound: Washing your hands before attending to a cut or wound minimizes the risk of introducing harmful bacteria. After treating the wound, washing your hands removes any potential contaminants and reduces the chance of infection.
- After using the toilet: After using the toilet, it is crucial to wash your hands to remove any fecal matter and bacteria that may be present. This prevents the spread of gastrointestinal infections and other illnesses.
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet: Proper handwashing is essential after changing diapers or assisting a child who has used the toilet. This helps prevent the spread of germs found in fecal matter.
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing: When you cover your mouth or nose while coughing or sneezing, it is important to wash your hands afterward. This prevents the transfer of respiratory droplets containing germs to surfaces or other people.
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste: Interacting with animals, their feed, or waste can expose you to various bacteria and germs. Washing your hands afterward reduces the risk of spreading any potential pathogens.
- After handling pet food or pet treats: Pet food and treats may carry bacteria, so it is essential to wash your hands after handling them to prevent contamination.
- After touching garbage: Handling garbage can expose you to harmful bacteria. Washing your hands afterward helps eliminate any potential germs and prevents their spread.
If soap and water are not readily available, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is an effective alternative. However, it is important to note that hand sanitizers are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy, and in such cases, washing hands with soap and water is recommended.
By following these key times to wash your hands and maintaining good hand hygiene, you can help protect yourself and others from the spread of germs and reduce the risk of infections.
Five Steps to Wash Your Hands the Right Way by CDC
Keeping your hands clean is crucial to prevent the spread of germs. Follow these key times to wash your hands:
- Before preparing or consuming food: Before you handle or eat food, make sure to wash your hands with clean, running water and soap. This helps remove any bacteria or contaminants that could be present.
- After using the bathroom: After using the toilet, always wash your hands thoroughly. This practice helps prevent the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses.
- After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose: Whenever you cover your mouth or nose while coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose, it’s important to wash your hands afterward. This reduces the risk of transferring germs to others or touching surfaces.
- After touching animals or animal waste: If you come into contact with animals or their waste, it’s essential to wash your hands afterward. Animals can carry bacteria and other pathogens that can cause illness.
- After handling garbage or waste: Dispose of garbage or waste materials properly, and wash your hands afterward to prevent the spread of bacteria and odors.
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick: When providing care to someone who is ill or tending to their needs, washing your hands before and after is crucial to prevent the transmission of germs.
- Before and after treating wounds: If you’re tending to a cut, scrape, or wound, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after the process. This helps prevent infection and the spread of bacteria.
Remember to follow these five steps each time you wash your hands:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold).
- Apply soap and lather your hands by rubbing them together. Ensure you cover all areas, including the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. You can use the “Happy Birthday” song as a timer.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water to remove all soap.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or an air dryer. Ensure your hands are completely dry.
By practicing proper handwashing at these key times, you can help prevent the spread of germs and protect yourself and others from illness.
Video by CDC for Hand Washing
Use Hand Sanitizer When You Can’t Use Soap and Water
When soap and water are not readily available, using a hand sanitizer can help reduce the number of germs on your hands. Here’s what you need to know about using hand sanitizer:
- Check the alcohol content: Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. You can verify the alcohol content by checking the product label.
- Apply the sanitizer: Dispense a coin-sized amount of the gel product onto the palm of one hand. Read the label instructions to ensure you’re using the correct amount.
- Cover all surfaces: Rub the sanitizer over all surfaces of your hands, including the backs, between your fingers, and under your nails. Make sure to cover every area thoroughly.
- Rub until dry: Continue rubbing your hands together for about 20 seconds or until the sanitizer has completely evaporated. This allows the alcohol to effectively kill the germs.
It’s important to note the limitations of hand sanitizers:
- Not all germs are eliminated: While hand sanitizers can reduce the number of germs, they do not eliminate all types of germs. Washing hands with soap and water is still the best method to get rid of germs in most situations.
- Visible dirt or grease: Hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. In such cases, it’s best to use soap and water for a thorough cleaning.
- Limited effectiveness against certain chemicals: Hand sanitizers are not designed to remove harmful chemicals like pesticides from hands. If you have been exposed to chemicals, it’s important to wash your hands with soap and water.
Remember, hand sanitizers are a convenient alternative when soap and water are unavailable, but they should not replace regular handwashing. Whenever possible, prioritize washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to maintain optimal hand hygiene and reduce the spread of germs.
Steps of handwashing by the World Health Organization (WHO)
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides clear guidelines on the steps of handwashing to ensure effective cleaning. Here are the recommended steps:
- Wet the hands with water.
- Apply enough soap to cover the entire surface of the hands.
- Rub the palms of the hands together.
- Rub the back of each hand, interlacing fingers to ensure thorough cleaning.
- Interlock fingers and rub in between them.
- Rub the back of fingers against the opposing palms with fingers interlocked.
- Perform rotational rubbing of the left thumb in the right palm and vice versa.
- Perform rotational rubbing, backward and forwards, with clasped fingers of the right hand in the left palm and vice versa.
- Rinse hands thoroughly with water to remove soap and lather.
- Dry hands completely with a single-use towel.
- Use a towel to turn off the faucet, if applicable.
Following these steps will ensure that your hands are properly cleaned and free from germs. It’s important to note that hand sanitizer can be used as an alternative to soap and water when hands are not visibly dirty, but when visible dirt or grime is present, it’s recommended to use soap and water for effective handwashing. By practicing proper hand hygiene, you can help prevent the spread of germs and maintain good health.
Video by WHO for Hand Washing
What are the recommended hand washing steps by CDC and WHO?
The recommended hand washing steps include wetting hands, applying soap, lathering and scrubbing hands for at least 20 seconds, rinsing thoroughly, and drying hands completely.
Can I use hand sanitizer instead of soap and water?
Hand sanitizer can be used when soap and water are not readily available. It should contain at least 60% alcohol and be applied according to the instructions on the product.
How long should I wash my hands according to CDC and WHO?
CDC and WHO recommend washing hands for at least 20 seconds. You can use the “Happy Birthday” song sung twice or any other 20-second tune as a timer.
Should I use warm or cold water for hand washing?
Either warm or cold water can be used for hand washing. The temperature of the water does not significantly impact the effectiveness of hand hygiene.
How often should I wash my hands?
It is recommended to wash your hands frequently, especially before eating, after using the toilet, after touching surfaces in public areas, and when your hands are visibly dirty.
Should I wash my hands before and after handling food?
Yes, it is important to wash your hands before preparing food to prevent the transfer of germs. Additionally, washing hands after handling raw meat, poultry, or fish is crucial to avoid cross-contamination.
Should I use a specific technique for hand washing?
Yes, CDC and WHO recommend specific techniques, including thorough rubbing of all hand surfaces, including the backs of hands, between fingers, and under nails, to ensure effective cleaning.
How should I dry my hands after washing?
After rinsing your hands, it is best to use a clean towel or air dryer to dry your hands thoroughly. Avoid using a shared towel, if possible.
Can children follow the same hand washing steps?
Yes, children should be taught and encouraged to follow the same hand washing steps as adults. Supervision may be needed to ensure they wash their hands properly.
Where can I find a video demonstration of proper hand washing?
You can search online platforms, such as the CDC or WHO websites, for video demonstrations of proper hand washing techniques. These videos can provide visual guidance on the recommended steps.