Frequent hand washing the panacea for myriad ailments

It takes at least 20 seconds of thorough hand washing to effectively kill the germs. [Courtesy]

Launched in 2009, every May 5 the world commemorates world hand hygiene day. Due to the current pandemic, this year everyone across the world is encouraged to make it a habit and spare a few seconds to save lives through hand hygiene. 

This is a global campaign that was aimed at global promotion, visibility, and sustainability of hand hygiene in healthcare and to the general public.

In 2013, a study conducted by Michigan State University researchers found that only 5 per cent of people washed their hands after visiting the bathroom for the duration required to kill the germs that have the propensity of causing infections.

According to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it takes at least 20 seconds of thorough handwashing with soap and water to effectively kill the germs, yet the study showed that people were only washing hands, on average, for about six seconds.

Men were particularly horrible at washing hands correctly. Could it be the reason why men are the most infected in the current pandemic? This will be unearthed another day! However, the research found out that people were less likely to wash hands in a dirty sink, whereas a clean sink increased the length of time spent washing hands.

CDC has indicated that hand hygiene is one of the most critical steps folks should embrace to drown the bug and impede it from spreading to other people. Research has shown that hand hygiene will break the germ cycle leading to 50 per cent reduction of diarrhoeal disease-associated deaths and the prevention of a million deaths per year.

In fact, we frequently but involuntarily touch our faces and other common surfaces throughout the day. A research carried out by Alonso and his colleagues who randomly selected 249 people in public arena found that humans touch their faces on average 3.6 times per hour and common surfaces on average 3.3 times per hour without being cognisant of the germs lingering everywhere in every nook and cranny.  

The figures are astonishing, especially for students in a 2015 behavioural observational study where on average each of the 26 observed learners touched their face 23 times per hour. Of all face touches, 36 per cent involved contact with mouth, 31 per cent nose, 27 per cent eyes and 6 per cent a combination of the above anatomical areas. This information is not meant to turn you into hypochondriacs, but trigger you into a constant state of circumspection.

The above researches give us a glimpse of how we behave voluntarily or involuntarily. We know one of the ways to contract Covid-19 is through direct or indirect contact with either surfaces or mouth droplets and through aerosols.

It is prudent to become germ busters by keeping your hands clean and safe for everyone’s sake. Data from Kenya Health Information System (KHIS) has shown a 35 per cent reduction of diarrhoeal cases in the country from April 2019 to March 2020 vis a vis April 2020 to March 2021, in tandem with CDC, which indicates that failure or insufficient washing of hands will have a ripple effect in contributing to almost 50 per cent of all food-borne illness outbreaks. This means hand hygiene not only stops the spread of Covid-19 but also a myriad other diseases.

Our clarion call for this year’s Global Hand Hygiene Day is to bring everyone on board to actualise their mandate. Healthcare workers should clean hands at the point of care more than ever before.

Infection preventionists are tasked to champion and offer mentorship for clean hands at the point of care while facility managers are compelled to ensure hand hygiene supplies are available at every point of care.

Patients and families are implored to help us to help you by cleaning your hands always. For the Covid-19 vaccination and others going on, the vaccinators are reminded to clean hands with every vaccine.

It will also be impractical if the policymakers are not involved, accountable, and committed to investing now to ensure hand hygiene for all. Everyone must make clean hands a habit to protect us all. 

Proper hand hygiene is one of the infection prevention and control practices that augments and complements other mitigation measures for Covid-19, which include appropriately donning and doffing your mask, vaccination and avoiding closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places and close-contact settings such as close-range conversations, as recommended by World Health Organisation.

 -James Marcomic Maragia is a County Medical Laboratory Coordinator-Turkana County


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