The tremendous medical care we have access to in the Western world is something many of us take for granted, but we also have a responsibility to keep ourselves healthy. If recent research is anything to go by, it seems more and more people are failing to take even the most basic steps to protect themselves, their families and their colleagues from serious health risks by simply washing their hands.
If everyone in the world washed their hands properly, there would be a 16 percent reduction in respiratory infection and a 50 percent fall in diarrheal disease. In the developed world, this could result in more than one million lives being saved. However, despite the huge difference something so simple could make, currently just 68 percent of women and 38 percent of men say they wash their hands regularly.
Why is hand washing so important?
Changing people’s handwashing habits is easier than said than done; however, it is the most cost effective way to prevent the biggest causes of child death in the developing world, diarrhoea and pneumonia, so it’s certainly worth the fight.
In the UK, although the consequences of poor hand washing practices are not quite so severe, it can still significantly reduce the spread of respiratory infections like influenza and gastrointestinal infections like Salmonella. Both of these diseases can be extremely serious, particularly in children, the elderly and those with a weakened immune system.
How to wash your hands properly
A study has found that people spend an average of just 6 seconds washing their hands after they have been to the toilet, while 10 percent don’t wash their hands at all. Many of those who do wash their hands also make some common handwashing mistakes.
A wash of the hands should not just be a token rinse in cold water. A proper hand wash only takes 20 seconds but must involve soap and warm water. The soap should be worked into a lather and the backs of the hands, between the fingers, under the fingernails and the wrists should all be cleaned. The hands should then be rinsed under running water to make sure all traces of soap are removed and dried under a hand dryer or using paper towels.
Generally speaking, it is also better to use liquid soap rather than a bar, particularly somewhere where many hands will come into contact with the soap, such as at work. This helps to reduce the spread of germs and bacteria.
When should you wash your hands?
According to advice from NHS Scotland, you should wash your hands thoroughly:
Before eating, after and during the preparation of food
After handling raw foods like chicken and meat
After using the toilet
After handling rubbish
After coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose
After changing a nappy
Before and after treating a cut or wound
Before and after touching a sick person
Before and after visiting a hospital ward
Following these simple steps can help to reduce the spread of viruses and bacteria and reduce the risk of diarrhoea by half.