The superpower of hand-washing

It may sound pointless and perhaps even trivial that I am advising you on how to wash your hands. You may wonder, “who do you think you are talking to? We have long left the caves and now live in a civilized society”.

Your point is more than fair, hands down. I am not here to discuss how well you behave in society, how respectful and sociable you are. I trust you know that more than I do. What I am here to do is instead to reinforce the importance of hand washing, which as simple as it may sound, is one of the habits some of us may have lost.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests proper handwashing is one of the most effective ways to stave off illnesses and protect ourselves from bacteria and airborne viruses. Indeed, germs spread from surfaces to people when we touch a surface and then touch our face with unwashed hands. Think about it: how many times do you do this without even realizing? I want to be honest with you; it happens to me quite often, I have no shame in admitting it.

Sometimes we are just too busy to think about these things and we take them for granted believing they are not too important or nothing is going to happen. Well, it might. Better safe than sorry, right? Say for example you are coming back from work by public transport. No seats are available, so sadly enough, you need to stand. Your legs ache and the only place where you want to be now is in bed. We have all been there. The bus suddenly stops and you have to quickly grab the handrail not to fall. Good move, you are safe now. Because you are very tired, you need to yawn, so you put your hand on your mouth.

However, you forget you just touched the handrail. That’s exactly when everything happens. Don’t let your guards down; germs are everywhere. Every surface we touch is home to thousands. Of course, it is not very comfortable to wear gloves 24/7, so the only way you have to prevent germs coming into contact with your face is by washing your hands. When do germs lie? Let me tell you:

● Germs can get into the body through the eyes, nose and mouth after we touch them. And because we touch our face around 23 times an hour, chances are pretty high.

● 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. We certainly don’t want to give up on eating, which is why a good hygiene practice is a much better option.

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

Research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge suggests how fundamental handwashing is to decrease the rate of disease transmission. Prof. Christos Nicolaides started his study from existing data that show that 30% of people do not wash their hands after going to the toilet, and 50% of those who do, do not do it correctly. This is quite worrying, isn’t it? Maybe at this point of the article you might have started to realize that reminding the importance of handwashing is not that pointless? I leave this to you. Proper handwashing is a necessary hygiene routine we all need to take care of. But how do we do it effectively? Have a look below!

1. Step 1: wet hands with running water.

2. Step 2: apply enough soap to cover wet hands.

3. Step 3: scrub all surfaces of the hands - including back of hands, between fingers and under nails - for at least 20 seconds. Now you might want to ask me: how do we know it is actually 20 seconds? The trick is...sing the happy birthday song twice. It depends on you whether you want to sing it out loud or in your head, as long as you do.

4. Step 4: rinse thoroughly with running water.

5. Step 5: dry hands with a clean cloth or single-use towel.

Who would have thought there are so many rules about hand washing? Well, for it to be effective, there are. If you don’t have soap available, you can easily use sanitizers. They can reduce the number of germs on your hands in many situations, however don’t rely on them too much! They do not get rid of all types of germs and may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. So mind you! They could be a good way out but do not replace the power of hand washing by any means.

A good hand washing practice is always recommendable, regardless of the circumstance. We cannot stress it enough: germs are behind the corner, ready to kick in if you let them. Nevertheless, there are a few situations where washing your hands is even more important, and these are:

- After using the toilet

- Before and after eating

- After handling garbage

- After touching animals and pets

- After changing babies’ diapers or helping children using the toilet

- When your hands are visibly dirty

As you can imagine, these places are the hotspot for bacteria proliferation, which is why a great hand washing routine is not only necessary, but almost mandatory! At the moment of covid-19’s outbreak, there was undoubtedly a lot of confusion around which are the best practices to adopt to fight against it. One of the first guidelines to be provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) was that of washing the hands more frequently than usual with soap and water. This is not a coincidence! Hand washing is the first and best practice we can all follow to protect ourselves and those around us. Covid-19 has definitely shed light on the importance of washing our hands to stop the spread of infection, so let’s not lose this habit.