This week is National Handwashing Awareness Week! Sure, there may seem to be a day or a week dedicated to just about anything these days, but what could be more important than your health?
National Handwashing Awareness Week is from December 2nd through December 8th of this year. Why is proper handwashing so important? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) states, “Washing hands prevents illnesses and spread of infections to others. Handwashing with soap removes germs from hands. This helps prevent infections because:
• People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it. Germs can get into the body through the eyes, nose and mouth and make us sick
• Germs from unwashed hands can get into foods and drinks while people prepare or consume them. Germs can multiply in some types of foods or drinks, under certain conditions, and make people sick
• Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, like handrails, table tops, or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands
• Removing germs through handwashing therefore helps prevent diarrhea and respiratory infections and may even help prevent skin and eye infections
• Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water.”
It is very important to remove soil, dirt, and microorganisms from your hands since the hands are tools that can easily transfer germs and bacteria which rapidly spreads illnesses. If water and soap are not available, hands can be cleaned with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead.
“Teaching people about handwashing helps them and their communities stay healthy. Handwashing education in the community:
• Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 23-40%
• Reduces diarrhea illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%
• Reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21%
• Reduces absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29-57%
About 1.8 million children under the age of 5 die each year from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, the top two killers of young children around the world.
• Handwashing with soap could protect about 1 out of every 3 young children who get sick with diarrhea and almost 1 out of 5 young children with respiratory infections like pneumonia
• Although people around the world clean their hands with water, very few use soap to wash their hands. Washing hands with soap removes germs much more effectively
• Handwashing education and access to soap in schools can help improve attendance
• Good handwashing early in life may help improve child development in some settings
• Estimated global rates of handwashing after using the toilet are only 19%.” Nineteen percent? Yuck!
Those were the reasons why it is so very important to practice good handwashing hygiene.
How should you practice good hand hygiene? Read on to find out the dirty details.
The CDC explains, “Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. CDC recommends cleaning hands in a specific way to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Germs, or pathogens, are types of microbes that can cause disease. The guidance for effective handwashing and use of hand sanitizer was developed based on data from a number of studies.
• Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap
Why? Because hands could become re-contaminated if placed in a basin of standing water that has been contaminated through previous use, clean running water should be used. However, washing with non-potable water when necessary may still improve health. The temperature of the water does not appear to affect microbe removal; however, warmer water may cause more skin irritation and is more environmentally costly. Microbes are all tiny living organisms that may or may not cause disease.
Turning off the faucet after wetting hands saves water, and there are few data to prove whether significant numbers of germs are transferred between hands and the faucet.
Using soap to wash hands is more effective than using water alone because the surfactants in soap lift soil and microbes from skin, and people tend to scrub hands more thoroughly when using soap, which further removes germs.
To date, studies have shown that there is no added health benefit for consumers (this does not include professionals in the healthcare setting) using soaps containing antibacterial ingredients compared with using plain soap. As a result, FDA issued a final rule in September 2016 that 19 ingredients in common “antibacterial” soaps, including triclosan, were no more effective than non-antibacterial soap and water and thus these products are no longer able to be marketed to the general public. This rule does not affect hand sanitizers, wipes, or antibacterial products used in healthcare settings.
• Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails
Why? Lathering and scrubbing hands creates friction, which helps lift dirt, grease, and microbes from skin. Microbes are present on all surfaces of the hand, often in particularly high concentration under the nails, so the entire hand should be scrubbed.
• Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice
Why? Determining the optimal length of time for handwashing is difficult because few studies about the health impacts of altering handwashing times have been done. Of those that exist, nearly all have measured reductions in overall numbers of microbes, only a small proportion of which can cause illness, and have not measured impacts on health. Solely reducing numbers of microbes on hands is not necessarily linked to better health. The optimal length of time for handwashing is also likely to depend on many factors, including the type and amount of soil on the hands and the setting of the person washing hands. For example, surgeons are likely to come into contact with disease-causing germs and risk spreading serious infections to vulnerable patients, so they may need to wash hands longer than a woman before she prepares her own lunch at home. Nonetheless, evidence suggests that washing hands for about 15-30 seconds removes more germs from hands than washing for shorter periods.
Accordingly, many countries and global organizations have adopted recommendations to wash hands for about 20 seconds (some recommend an additional 20-30 seconds for drying):
• Rinse your hands well under clean, running water
Why? Soap and friction help lift dirt, grease, and microbes—including disease-causing germs—from skin so they can then be rinsed off of hands. Rinsing the soap away also minimizes skin irritation. Because hands could become re-contaminated if rinsed in a basin of standing water that has been contaminated through previous use, clean running water should be used. While some recommendations include using a paper towel to turn off the faucet after hands have been rinsed, this practice leads to increased use of water and paper towels, and there are no studies to show that it improves health.
• Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them
Why? Germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands; therefore, hands should be dried after washing. However, the best way to dry hands remains unclear because few studies about hand drying exist, and the results of these studies conflict. Additionally, most of these studies compare overall concentrations of microbes, not just disease-causing germs, on hands following different hand-drying methods. It has not been shown that removing microbes from hands is linked to better health. Nonetheless, studies suggest that using a clean towel or air drying hands are best.”
Suppose soap and clean running water are not available? “CDC recommends cleaning hands in a specific way to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. The guidance for effective handwashing and use of hand sanitizer was developed based on data from a number of studies.
• Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes on them in most situations. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
Why? Many studies have found that sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60–95% are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers may: 1. not work equally well for all classes of germs (for example, Gram-positive vs. Gram-negative bacteria, Cryptosporidium, norovirus); 2. cause germs to develop resistance to the sanitizing; 3. merely reduce the growth of germs rather than kill them outright; or 4. be more likely to irritate skin than alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
• When using hand sanitizer, apply the product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount) and rub the product all over the surfaces of your hands until your hands are dry.
Why? The steps for hand sanitizer use are based on a simplified procedure recommended by CDC. Instructing people to cover all surfaces of both hands with hand sanitizer has been found to provide similar disinfection effectiveness as providing detailed steps for rubbing-in hand sanitizer.
• Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs
Why? Although alcohol-based hand sanitizers can inactivate many types of microbes very effectively when used correctly, people may not use a large enough volume of the sanitizers or may wipe it off before it has dried. Furthermore, soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers at removing or inactivating certain kinds of germs, like Cryptosporidium, norovirus, and Clostridium difficile.
• Hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy
Why? Many studies show that hand sanitizers work well in clinical settings like hospitals, where hands come into contact with germs but generally are not heavily soiled or greasy. Some data also show that hand sanitizers may work well against certain types of germs on slightly soiled hands. However, hands may become very greasy or soiled in community settings, such as after people handle food, play sports, work in the garden, or go camping or fishing. When hands are heavily soiled or greasy, hand sanitizers may not work well. Handwashing with soap and water is recommended in such circumstances.
• Swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning
Why? Ethyl alcohol (ethanol)-based hand sanitizers are safe when used as directed, but they can cause alcohol poisoning if a person swallows more than a couple of mouthfuls.
From 2011 – 2015, U.S. poison control centers received nearly 85,000 calls about hand sanitizer exposures among children. Children may be particularly likely to swallow hand sanitizers that are scented, brightly colored, or attractively packaged. Hand sanitizers should be stored out of the reach of young children and should be used with adult supervision. Child-resistant caps could also help reduce hand sanitizer-related poisonings among young children. Older children and adults might purposefully swallow hand sanitizers to become drunk.
• Hand sanitizers might not remove harmful chemicals, like pesticides and heavy metals, from hands
Why? Although few studies have been conducted, hand sanitizers probably cannot remove or inactivate many types of harmful chemicals. In one study, people who reported using hand sanitizer to clean hands had increased levels of pesticides in their bodies. If hands have touched harmful chemicals, wash carefully with soap and water (or as directed by a poison control center).”
Now that you know why and how to correctly wash your hands, are you ready to keep yourself and loved ones healthy not only during cold and flu season, but the whole year through? Follow these simple steps in proper hand hygiene and you will be well on your way to becoming a happy and healthy handwashing hero!