The most important aspects of an antiseptic hand wash

A number of infectious diseases can be spread from one person to another by contaminated hands. These diseases include gastrointestinal infections, such as Salmonella, and respiratory infections, such as influenza. Washing your hands properly can help prevent the spread of the germs (like bacteria and viruses) that cause these diseases.


Some forms of gastrointestinal and respiratory infections can cause serious complications, especially for young children, the elderly, or those with a weakened immune system. 


When to wash your hands:

  • after using the toilet or changing nappies

  • before,during and after preparing food

  • between handling raw and cooked or ready-to-eat food

  • before eating

  • after using a tissue or handkerchief

  • before and after attending to sick children or other family members.

  • after smoking

  • after handling rubbish or working in the garden

  • after handling animals

Who to wash hands properly:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water, turn off the tap.

  • Apply soap and lather well for 20 seconds (or longer if the dirt is ingrained).

  • Rub hands together rapidly across all surfaces of your hands and wrists. 

  • Don’t forget the backs of your hands, your wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.

  • If possible, remove rings and watches before you wash your hands, or ensure you move the rings to wash under them, as microorganisms can exist under them.

  • Rinse well under running water and make sure all traces of soap are removed.

  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them

  • It is best to use paper towels (or single-use cloth towel). 

  • Dry under any rings, as they can be a source of future contamination if they remain moist.

  • Hot air driers can be used.

  • Give each family member their own towel and wash the towels often.

Hand washing with soap removes germs from hands. This helps prevent infections because:

  • People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it. Germs can get into the body through the eyes, nose and mouth and make us sick.

  • Germs from unwashed hands can get into foods and drinks while people prepare or consume them. Germs can multiply in some types of foods or drinks, under certain conditions, and make people sick.

  • Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, like handrails, table tops, or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands.

  • Removing germs through hand washing therefore helps prevent diarrhea and respiratory infections and may even help prevent skin and eye infections.

Teaching people about hand washing helps them and their communities stay healthy. Hand washing education in the community:

  • Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 23-40%

  • Reduces diarrhea illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%  

  • Reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21%

  • Reduces absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29-57%

Not washing hands harms children around the world

About 1.8 million children under the age of 5 die each year from diarrhea diseases and pneumonia, the top two killers of young children around the world .

  • Hand washing with soap could protect about 1 out of every 3 young children who get sick with diarrhea and almost 1 out of 5 young children with respiratory infections like pneumonia

  • Although people around the world clean their hands with water, very few use soap to wash their hands. Washing hands with soap removes germs much more effectively .

  • Hand washing education and access to soap in schools can help improve attendance.

  • Good hand washing early in life may help improve child development in some settings.

  • Estimated global rates of hand washing after using the toilet are only 19% .


Hand washing helps battle the rise in antibiotic resistance

Preventing sickness reduces the amount of antibiotics people use and the likelihood that antibiotic resistance will develop. Hand washing can prevent about 30% of diarrhea-related sicknesses and about 20% of respiratory infections (e.g., colds). Antibiotics often are prescribed unnecessarily for these health issues. Reducing the number of these infections by washing hands frequently helps prevent the overuse of antibiotics—the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world. Hand washing can also prevent people from getting sick with germs that are already resistant to antibiotics and that can be difficult to treat.


Bonus: WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care.

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