Written by Solaade Ayo-Aderele - Nigeria.
Most Nigerians only became aware of the need to always wash their hands when the Ebola virus disease invaded the country sometime last year. But if the scary experience taught us anything, it's the fact that through hand-washing, we can prevent even the worst of infections from afflicting us.
Many people think it's only children that should wash their hands because they play with dirty things. But experts say adults must also wash their hands all the time.
Hand-washing is one of the most effective means to reducing the spread of infectious diseases, germs, bacteria or viruses. It also helps protect against food-borne illnesses.
Scientists at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention say approximately half of all food-borne illness outbreaks are due to people not washing their hands properly. They say the first line of defence against many infectious diseases is as simple as washing your hands.
Dirty hands kill!
The human hands happen to be the worst repository of germs. This is because we contact virtually everything we come across with our hands. The United Kingdom-based Health Protection Agency notes that typically, there are between 10,000 and 10 million bacteria on each hand, and that damp hands spread 1,000 times more germs than dry hands.
HPA warns further that the number of germs on your fingertips doubles after you use the toilet, and that's why no one can underrate the importance of hand-washing!
According to the Managing Director, Unigloves Medical Limited, Mr. Kevin Onah, washing hands to prevent infectious diseases dates back to the 19th century. Indeed, medical history notes that in the 1840s, a Hungarian physician and an early pioneer of antiseptic procedures, Ignaz Semmelweis, was able to prove that hand hygiene could prevent diseases.
As a physician in the Vienna General Hospital's First Obstetrical Clinic, Semmelweis examined why death from puerperal fever was considerably higher in a ward where doctors and medical students worked, compared to another ward where midwifery students were being trained.
Through assiduous research work, Semmelweis discovered that physicians had been shuffling germs around simply because they weren't washing hands in-between patients or after they had finished their schedules for the day.
The online portal, wikipedia, notes that Semmelweis was fondly described as the "saviour of mothers" because he discovered that the incidence of puerperal fever (also known as 'childbed fever') could be drastically reduced by the use of hand disinfection in obstetrical clinics.
Onah says puerperal fever was common in mid-19th-century hospitals and often fatal, with mortality at between 10 and 35 per one hundred mothers. To curb the trend, Semmelweis proposed the practice of washing hands with chlorinated lime solutions. That was in 1847.
"When physicians imbibed this practice, the result was resounding. Death rates were cut down phenomenally to just about one in a hundred! So, without doubts, hand-washing may be the miracle drug that doesn't need doctor's prescription; it is free, cheap and you cannot overdose on it!" Onah notes.
The company executive says Unigloves Medical Limited believes in the efficacy of hand washing, hence its decision to participate in the Global Handwashing Day - established in 2008 by the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap, to motivate and mobilise millions around the world to wash their hands with soap. It comes up every October 15.
"The campaign is dedicated to raising awareness of hand-washing with soap as a key approach to disease prevention. This year's theme for Global Handwashing Day is 'Raise a hand for hygiene!'" Onah says.
In general, physicians lament that, so far, compliance with recommended hand-washing practices is still very poor.
"Careful hand hygiene in medical field is set to become even more important in the future in the provision of high quality patient care. Those in the hospital and health sectors, hotels, food manufacturing companies and those in related fields must tap from the experience of international experts by adopting products such as hand hygiene disinfectants and accessories, skin disinfectants, wound care products, intravenous, administration sets lines, instrument disinfection and sterilisation, surface and medical equipment disinfection products, medical instruments, sharp boxes, specimen transport bags, repose material, etc. in the discharge of their duties as health care providers.
"This will cut down the rate of hospital-acquired infections and also save medical workers from being infected through unnecessary contacts with patients' symptoms," Onah submits.
The Hygiene Council says we need to wash:
Before eating, feeding children, applying contact lenses, or giving medication or First Aid.
After using the toilet or changing a child's nappy, handling domestic animals, contact with blood or body fluids, coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
Before and after handling raw food or tending to someone who is sick.
Here's how to do it properly:
Step 1: Wet your hands with clean running water and work up a generous lather of soap. If there's anti-bacterial soap to hand, so much the better.
Step 2: Rub together your palms, wash the backs of your hands and fingers, wash between your fingers, and clean your nails by softly scratching them on the palm of your hand.
Step 3: Rinse and wipe with clean cloth.
Where there's no water and soap, use hand sanitiser
It's also vital to use sanitisers to wipe objects that we interact with on a daily basis, including computer keyboard/mouse, cell phones, TV remote controls, etc.
The bottom line: Basic hand hygiene gives you a better chance at keeping a host of nasties at bay.