Washing your hands to most people is a basic thing in life that we do on a very regular basis but are you washing correctly to avoid spreading germs and help you to stay healthy and safe?
According to Nursing Times, there is a link between poor hand hygiene and infection which is no surprise. Contaminated hands can transmit micro-organisms that may cause infection. The prevention of harm to people as a whole is a fundamental concept in any setting.
As the value of hand hygiene has increased, hand-hygiene products have developed and transcended to new heights. The basic types that are used by nurses and most medical establishments are soap, aqueous antiseptic handwash solutions, alcohol-based hand rubs, and others including emollient soap substitute, tea tree-oil based solutions, water-based solutions, and hand wipes.
Let's break down what these products are and a bit about them.
1. Soap is detergent-based and suitable for removing dirt, soil and organic substances when applied with water. It can contain preservatives and/or bacteriostatic agents in order to minimise or prevent bacterial growth. Things such as perfumes and emulsifiers may also be added.
* Soap is available in bar, liquid, leaves, and leaflets. It has minimal antimicrobial activity but will remove loosely adherent flora (the population of microbes inhabiting the outside or inside surfaces of people or other animals.
* Advantages of soap are it is simple to use where sinks and towels or drying facilities are present. Most people are familiar with it and the required technique. People say they feel clean after using soap.
* Disadvantages of soap include it is necessary to have a sink, water, and a method to dry the hands. Bar soap can be very slippery and also get stuck under nails and rings on fingers. A bar of soap and the container it is stored in can become contaminated. Soap can dry the skin and cause irritation sometimes. The perfumes that can be added to soap might cause allergies in some users.
2. Antimicrobial handwash solutions come in 3 basic forms: chlorhexidine gluconate, povidone-iodine, and triclosan. First, let's discuss what the word antimicrobial means. According to Wikipedia antimicrobial is an agent that kills microorganisms or stops their growth.
* Chlorhexidine gluconate is incorporated into several hand-hygiene products. Alone it is minimally soluble in water but the digluconate form is water-soluble. The specific effects of this agent are complex.
* Advantages of it include it is very versatile and widely available. It is unlikely to cause skin irritation and it has residual activity. The main advantage is the broad-spectrum antibacterial activity.
* Disadvantages include it having a limited antimicrobial effect. Even though there is minimal absorption in the skin, eye contact can cause conjunctivitis and possibly damage the cornea. There is some residual bactericidal activity but it is quickly deactivated by organic matter or skin secretions, particularly in lower concentrations. Sensitivity and allergies are quite possible.
3. Alcohol hand contaminants (hand sanitizer) contains one or more of the following items: ethyl alcohol (ethanol), isopropyl (isopropanol) and N-propanol. Solutions of 60-90% are most effective. Higher concentrations are less effective as water is required to denature proteins. An emollient is generally added to reduce the effects of drying on the skin.
* Alcohol-based hand decontaminants are available as rubs, liquid, gels, and foams. Alcohol denatures proteins. Micro-organisms on the skin surface are rapidly destroyed.
* Advantages to them include it is simple and fast to use. Advantageous if handwashing is unavailable. It causes less skin irritation or damage than handwashing. Greater reduction of bacteria than just general handwashing and it is very portable.
* Disadvantages are that it can only be used on generally clean hands. If your hands are covered in the dirt this method is not viable. They have a broad spectrum of activity but may have a limited effect on some viruses. When used repeatedly your hands can feel sticky. To some people, the scent is very off-putting. It can sting if you have a cut or open wound on your hands. If you have artificial nails it can affect them in some instances and lastly it is flammable.
Now that we have discussed what to use let us get down to the basics of what you need to do and when.
When to Wash Your Hands
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says washing your hands is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from getting sick.
A. They advise washing before, during and after preparing food. While most people already do this and have always done so some people are not as adamant about some of those steps. I have worked in kitchens of restaurants and have watched chef's wipe their hands on their aprons as opposed to going to a sink and washing correctly. That being said I have watched friends and family do similar.
B. If you are going to eat food it is advised that you wash your hands as well. Seems logical if you are about to put something in your mouth that you would want clean hands to do so.
C. If you are caring for someone at home who is ill in any way you should of course wash before and after caring for them to stop the spread of germs. Germs live on the skin for approximately 20 minutes if not washed to remove. Think about your average 20 minutes on any given day and how many times you touch your face in any way. Maybe you sweep your hair aside, wipe your eye, rub your nose, or bite your nail. We all do it subconsciously. This is why if anyone is sick in any way, especially you, then it is vital to wash to remove the germs and stop them from spreading.
D. When you are treating a cut or wound it is very important to not only wash before but also after doing so. Again germs can get into the cut or wound and washing can help stop this from happening.
E. After using the toilet. This is no surprise and I am sure we have all heard this numerous times yet many people do not wash after going to the toilet. It only takes a few minutes of your time and can make a difference in your life.
F. When you change a diaper or nappy as the English call them or help a child go to the toilet. If they watch you wash after then it teaches them that it is the correct thing to do and helps them to get in the habit as well. I always helped our kids wash after helping them use a toilet and told them how important it was.
G. Wash after you blow your nose, cough or sneeze. All of these things can spread germs and it, therefore, stands to reason that you should wash after any of them to prevent the spread of germs and disease. People with allergies I have noticed don't always wash when they blow their nose and such thinking it is not such a big deal because they don't necessarily have a disease but what they don't think about is there is still a possibility of passing germs even though you may not have what you feel is a transmittable disease.
H. Once you have touched an animal, animal food or waste from an animal. Any animal even your beloved dog or cat you should wash your hands. Animals do carry germs as well and of course, their waste does. some are not harmful to human beings but they can still be carried on to others and surfaces so it is always best to be cautious.
I. Trash, rubbish, garbage whatever you may call it as there are different names for it in different countries but once you take it and put it in the bin wash your hands. A lot of things can be in there that you don't want to carry on to other surfaces or places so wash to safeguard not only you but those around you.
How to Wash Your Hands
Now that we know the different things to use and when let's discuss how. The CDC gives the following guide to washing your hands in 5 easy steps.
1. Wet your hands with clean, running water preferably warm, turn off the tap and apply soap.
2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Making sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails. Just up your wrists is a good idea as well if you want to safeguard yourself.
3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Maybe set a timer a few times to help you to realise just how long 20 seconds is. You can also hum "Happy Birthday" from beginning to end twice.
4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water again warm is best.
5. Dry your hands with a clean towel or air dry them.
If you are unable to wash your hands but have hand sanitizer available then use that. Washing is, of course, suggested but there are instances when that is not an option.
Hand sanitizers do not get rid of all types of germs but they do have some effect with some germs. It is also not effective when you have greasy or dirty hands. A hand sanitizer might not remove harmful chemicals from your hands like pesticides and heavy metals.
When using a hand sanitizer apply it to the palm of one of your hands and rub your hands together making sure you cover all of the surfaces just as you do when washing such as between the fingers and continue to rub until your hands are dry again.
Hand sanitizers should be kept out of the reach of small children because it is alcohol-based and can be dangerous to them.
Now that you know the in's and out's of washing and sanitizing we hope you will feel you have the knowledge to keep yourself a bit safer and healthier.