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Hand Hygiene: Washing Hands In The Time Of Pandemic

Hand wash

The world today is on war against Covid 19 virus. And now we realize that this is going to be a tough battle till we find an effective treatment or vaccine against this virus. But this is not the time to be disheartened about the news.

In fact, we must be glad that this is not an airborne disease. That gives us two effective methods to fight with Covid 19. They are social distancing and hand hygiene. Practicing them properly could save our lives and lives of people near and dear to us. 

Image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay

What is Hand Hygiene 

Hand hygiene includes ways of cleaning hands properly to reduce the microorganisms in hands significantly and thus reducing the chances of an infection.  World Health Organization treats this as a crucial factor in controlling any pandemic.

History of Hand Hygiene

It is believed that Florence Nightingale established this practice in War Hospitals. Though the move significantly reduced infections the reason behind it was not clear at that time. She and fellow health workers thought foul smell or miasmas caused infections. It was only during 1980s that world health experts could crack the secret behind hand hygiene.

The Science Behind Hand Hygiene 

Hands are the wonder organ that literally open door to the external world. It touches all the doorknobs, handrails and many other necessary and unnecessary surfaces when we venture out.

So naturally it carries all the good and bad things from the external surfaces. The bad things it carries are germs, bacterias, viruses and dirt.

And the most important part is that these very same hands are the wonder organ that open door to the inner world of our body. We touch nose eyes and mouth knowingly and unknowingly several times a day with these hands. And now we know that eyes nose and mouse are key points of entry for pathogens or disease-causing microorganisms.

When we reduce exposure of pathogens near these organs we also reduce the chances of infection. Or in other words, hand hygiene is a cost-effective and simple mechanism we all could adopt to reduce the risk of exposure to pathogens.

Methods of Hand Hygiene

There are several methods of hand hygiene. The most important among them are washing hands with soap and water and sanitizing hands with a hand sanitizer with at least 60% of alcohol content.

WHO recommends washing hands if there is access to soap and water. Washing hands with soap and water is more economical than alcohol-based sanitizers.

How Hand Wash Works 

Covid 19 and all other viruses are DNA molecules with a lipid coating. This sticky lipid coating helps them to stick to a surface and live longer. Soap doesn’t kill the virus. But it can kill the lipid coating.

Without the lipid coating, the virus can’t stick to your hands and it will eventually die. A thorough hand wash will significantly remove the virus and other microorganisms from your hand. WHO recommends seven steps of effective hand washing.

7 Steps of Hand Washing

  • Step 1: Wet Hands. Wet your hands and apply enough soap to create a good lather.
  • Step 2: Rub Palms Together. This is palm to palm washing.
  • Step 3: Rub the back of each hand. 
  • Step 4: Interlace the fingers.
  • Step 5: Cup your fingers.
  • Step 6: Clean the thumbs.
  • Step 7: Rub both wrists thoroughly in a rotating way. Wash off the lather and dry it with a towel.

Stay Calm and Wash Your Hands

We are not fighting a bacterial infection. Covid 19 is a virus. So an antibacterial soap is not essential. Any soap could serve this purpose. So stay calm.

You might not see the label soap on most of the store-bought soaps. What you see is labels like ‘bathing bar’ or ‘beauty bar’ etc. Please don’t worry. As per BIS regulations, they can’t write soap if the product doesn’t meet a certain quality standard. But that doesn’t reduce their effectiveness.

Most of the soaps we buy are concoctions of synthetic detergents. They could very well destroy the lipid covering of viruses and helps us keep the hands clean. One more reason to stay calm.

Multiple hand washing for weeks could wreak havoc on hands. Some of you might be already experiencing dryness on hands. You can use soaps with higher amount of humectants such as glycerin retained soaps. You can also apply your favourite cream or plain glycerin to fight dryness. 

Wash your hands. Practice social distancing. Stay safe.

Together we will overcome this pandemic. 


Biju Ynnen

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