Handwashing is an effective way to prevent the spread of bacterial and viral pathogens alike, during a regular flu season or while in the event of the outbreak of dangerous airborne viruses. This infection prevention tip has gained more relevance with the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19). As the threat from this respiratory illness grows, all global healthcare agencies are stressing the importance of handwashing.
COVID-19 spreads from person to person via droplets of infected fluid and can be passed on via touch, direct hand to hand contact or from contaminated surfaces. Prevention measures are critical to stop the spread of the virus because there is no vaccine to prevent it and no anti-virals to treat it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, before eating, and after touching garbage. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. However, hand sanitizers may not be as effective as using soap.
Washing hands decreases the number of microbes on hands and helps prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Karen Fleming from Johns Hopkins University explains in a Twitter post that soap is an amazing weapon to prevent Coronavirus infection, as this is an enveloped virus with an outer lipid membrane layer. This virus is surrounded by a fat layer and washing hands with soap and water can “dissolve” this greasy fatty layer and kill the virus.
The CDC’s five steps to wash your hands the right way are –
- Wet hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Rinse hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
When using a hand sanitizer, apply the gel product to the palm of one hand, rub your hands together, and rub the gel over all the surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry. This should take around 20 seconds.
CDC’s “Life is Better with Clean Hands” campaign to celebrate Global Handwashing Day on October 15 also encourages adults to make handwashing part of their everyday life and encourages parents to wash their hands to set a good example for their kids.
Read our blog on World Hand Hygiene Day to learn more about how handwashing can illnesses.