Everyday as I’m driving to or from home I hear the same commercial on the radio which asks a mother what she’s doing, when she goes to prepare the baby’s food right after changing her without washing her hands first.
Jamaica has been hit by a wave of Dengue, Flu and Gastroenteritis. While getting rid of dengue means getting rid of mosquitos, we can decrease the amount of persons getting flu and gastroenteritis with simple and proper hand washing techniques.
Why is it important to wash my hands?
Germs, which are things like bacteria and viruses, can make you sick. Our hands are the perfect place for them to hide and be transferred to other persons, foods or objects.
We come in contact with faeces(poop) in very obvious and not so obvious ways.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one gram of human poop may have up to 1 trillion germs!
Poop carries germs that can cause diarrhoea and may affect the parts of your body that helps you to breath (your respiratory system).
Germs get on our hands from using the bathroom, changing diapers, touching door knobs and other objects.
Since, a lot of us unconsciously touch our eyes, nose and mouth, we give the germs, on our hands, a first class ticket into our bodies which can cause us to get sick.
Hand washing with soap has been proven to decrease the number of persons who get sick.
When should I wash my hands?
The Ministry of Health of Jamaica has these all over Jamaican Hospitals and it is a great summary of when we should wash our hands.
Do I have to use soap?
Soap has two benefits when it comes to washing your hands, a chemical one and a behavioural one. This means that what makes up soap makes it capable of removing germs and dirt effectively, as well as, it changes how long we wash our hands versus when we are just using water.
Soap has the ability to bind to what’s on our hands and makes it easier for the water to wash off germs and dirt, while using water alone would not be as effective.
Since soap lathers, we spend more time washing our hands which means we take off more dirt and germs than if we were to use water alone.
While many persons think antibacterial soap is better, the Food and Drug Administration has come out to say no, and even went as far as banning the ingredient Triclosan.
This is because the studies have not shown any benefit to using antibacterial soap instead of regular soap. However, the risk of antibiotic resistance is possible with this ingredient. As such, the benefits do not outweigh the risks when it comes to using antibacterial soap.
Just use regular soap!
Read more about soap in a blog from Harvard University here.
How do I wash my hands?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands in this order: wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry.
Read more about how to wash your hands here and the science behind hand washing here.
Use running water to wash your hands, the temperature doesn’t really matter. It’s good to use water that’s moving as the risk of its contamination is less. If all you have is standing water- still use it because it’s better than not using anything.
Don’t forget to turn off the pipe! Running water for longer periods wastes water, and there has not been evidence to show that turning the pipe off causes significant contamination to the hands.
Use the soap to lather the hands well. Don’t miss important areas like the back of your hands, palms, between the fingers, fingertips and nails and your thumb.
The time recommended to scrub your hands varies from source to source, but also depends on how dirty your hands are.
In general scrubbing for 15 – 30 seconds should be enough for the general population. If your hands are really dirty, of course you should go longer.
Scrubbing helps to get the hands clean and lift away dirt and germs.
Use running water, if available, to get all the soap off. If not you can use standing water, but there is a risk of contamination.
Whether with a paper towel or by air drying. No method has really been proven to be superior over the other.
But don’t wipe your hands in your clothes!
This video below shows you just how to wash your hands properly.
You can also read more about hand washing from the Mayo Clinic here.
What are the benefits of washing my hands?
Washing your hands with soap and water plays a major role in disease reduction. Especially when it comes to diarrhoeal and respiratory illnesses. Which is the top two killers of children under 5 and about 1.8 million children around the world will die from these each year.
It reduces absenteeism from school and work since it reduces the number of persons who get sick.
It reduces antibiotic resistance, which is a major problem now, as the number of antibiotics prescribed will be less.
See more facts and figures from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention here.
What if I don’t have soap?
Use hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol. Follow the instructions on the bottle to know exactly how much to use. Since we usually don’t use enough.
You’re going to follow the same instructions as washing your hands, just without the water.
Avoid using hand sanitiser if you have visual soiling of the hand, and wash hands with soap and water.
Washing our hands with soap and water is an important way to reduce the spread of disease. How often do you wash your hands?
Samantha C. Johnson
Featured photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash
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