Wellbeing / 29 Apr, 2020

Why hand hygiene is important

Dr Goh Lit Ching

Why do we wash our hands?

Hands are the main pathways of germ transmission. You may find yourself touching something that many other people have touched, such as a door handle, and later touching your face without realising. This is just one way you can inadvertently infect yourself with a virus. Hand hygiene is the most important measure to avoid the transmission of harmful germs and prevent infections. At Icon Health Screening, we are committed to raising public awareness for cleaning hands at the right time and in the right way.

How do germs spread?

Germs can spread from other people or surfaces when you:

  • Touch your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Handle or eat food and drinks with unwashed hands
  • Come into contact with a contaminated surface or objects
  • Blow your nose, cough or sneeze into your hands and then touch other people’s hands or surfaces

How should I wash my hands?

Proper hand washing involves washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. An easy way to time this is to sing Happy Birthday twice. The constant rubbing action helps soap break down the grease and dirt that carry most germs. Dry your hands thoroughly afterwards. This way, you will reduce the germ count on your hands by up to 99%.

When should I wash my hands?

Wash your hands before and after you:

  • Handle or prepare food
  • Eat your meals
  • Attend to a child or sick person
  • Have any contact with your face, such as applying contact lenses, make up or lubricating eye drops etc.

Wash your hands after these activities:

  • ​Using the toilet
  • Wiping or blowing your nose, coughing and sneezing
  • Changing diapers
  • Handling garbage
  • Touching any common surfaces
  • Touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste
  • Handling pet food or pet treats

As advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the COVID-19 pandemic you should also clean your hands:

  • After you have been in a public place and touched an item or surface that may be frequently touched by other people, such as lift buttons, door handles, table tops, gas pumps, shopping carts, or electronic cashier registers/screens, etc.
  • Before touching your eyes, nose or mouth for any reason at all

Is hand sanitiser as effective as soap and water?

Hand sanitisers will not be as effective as soap and water in many circumstances. Although it can quickly reduce the number of germs on your hands in many situations, hand sanitiser does not get rid of all germs and may not remove harmful chemicals from hands like pesticides and heavy metals. You should only use hand sanitiser if you do not have immediate access to soap and water.

There are many different alcohol based and non-alcohol based hand sanitizer options in the market. For non-alcohol based hand sanitisers, always check the National Environment Agency website for recommended cleaning agents against COVID-19 to ensure your sanitiser will be effective.

For hands which are visibly dirty or visibly soiled with blood or other body fluids, it is best to use soap and water for a thorough cleaning.

How do I use hand sanitiser?

  • Dispense the right amount and apply the gel product to the palm of one hand
  • Rub your hands together
  • Make sure the sanitiser covers all the surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry. This should take around 20-30 seconds.

Tips for hand care

With regular handwashing, your hands may become dry with cracked skin. When the skin surface is broken, your hand’s protective barrier is breached. It is important to take care of your hands while maintaining hand hygiene.

We recommend:

  • Regularly using a protective hand cream or lotion, at least daily.
  • Using normal room temperature water or tap water. This is effective provided the steps of handwashing are followed correctly. There is a misconception that using hot water kills germs better, which may result in injuries such as burns.
  • After hand rubbing or handwashing, let your hands dry completely before tackling other tasks.
  • If there are any signs of skin infection, redness, dry skin, skin rash, or allergy reaction towards soap or hand rub products, please do not hesitate to contact your doctor for assessment

References

For a full list of references, click here.
  1. World Health Organisation. (2020). Infection prevention and control. Retrieved on 22 April 2020 from https://www.who.int/infection-prevention/en/
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Clean Hands Count for Patients. Retrieved on 22 April 2020 from https://www.cdc.gov/handhygiene/patients/index.html
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