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Father of hand hygiene—Ignaz Semmelweis had saved countless women’s lives simply by introducing a hand-washing policy in hospitals. Clinical hand washing since then has prevented millions of deaths of humankind. In the present times too, his idea of hand hygiene plays a central role in COVID-19 pandemic management.
The simple act of hand-washing is a critical way to prevent the spread of germs.
Hand washing, also known as hand hygiene, is the act of cleaning hands for the purpose of removing soil, dirt, and microorganisms.
Washing hands can keep you healthy and prevent the spread of respiratory and diarrheal infections. Germs can spread from one person to another or from surfaces to people when you:
Touch your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
Prepare or eat food and drinks with unwashed hands
Touch surfaces or objects that have germs on them
Blow your nose, cough, or sneeze into hands and transfer them to the other person when you touch them with unwashed hands
Before, during, and after preparing food
Before eating food
Before and after caring for a sick person
Before and after treating a cut or wound
After using the toilet
After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
After handling pet food or pet treats
After touching rubbish or garbage
To prevent the spread of germs during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should also wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds:
Before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
After touching your mask
After leaving a public place
After touching objects or surfaces that may be frequently touched by other people, such as door handles, tables, gas pumps, shopping carts, or electronic cashier registers/screens
If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to clean your hands. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands, but do not eliminate all types of germs and may not remove harmful chemicals.
To date, studies have shown that there is no added health benefit for consumers (this does not include healthcare professionals) using soaps containing antibacterial ingredients compared with using plain soap.
The temperature of the water does not appear to affect germs removal. However, warmer water may cause more skin irritation and is more environmentally costly.
Germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands. Therefore, hands should be dried after washing.
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 because of not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. Practice hand washing today to get rid of germs!
Medically reviewed by Ashwini Nair, MB BCh BAO.
1. Tyagi U, Barwal KC. Ignac Semmelweis—Father of Hand Hygiene. Indian J Surg. 2020;82(3):276-277. doi:10.1007/s12262-020-02386-6
2. When and How to Wash Your Hands | Handwashing | CDC. Published March 14, 2022. Accessed April 29, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html
3. Show Me the Science - How to Wash Your Hands | Handwashing | CDC. Published August 10, 2021. Accessed April 30, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-handwashing.html
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