Why is handwashing so critical during a pandemic?

16th April 2020

You've likely heard "wash your hands" hundreds of times in your life, even more now that we are experiencing a worldwide pandemic. How important is it that you actually wash your hands regularly? How often should you wash your hands? What will happen if you don't? Here we discuss why this should be one of the most important additions to your hygiene regimen.

Viruses and bacteria can spread from person to person if you neglect proper handwashing. Respiratory infections like influenza are easily passed on through contaminated hands and surfaces. Even deadly viruses like COVID-19 can be prevented by washing hands properly and frequently.

Your hands are the gateway viruses use to enter your body. While it is possible to breathe in viruses that are within floating droplets of respiration, it is far more likely that you will touch a contaminated surface and then proceed to touch your eyes, nose or mouth. It is simply common to human nature that we touch our eyes and nose. We often eat using our hands.

While using hand sanitiser is an effective way to kill germs that are on your hands, and surface disinfectants are useful in killing germs that are on your counters, the most effective way to get contaminants off your hands is to simply wash them with soap and water. By doing so, you can significantly reduce the chances you will get sick from viruses and bacteria. This is especially important for older people and those with a weak immune system.

Wash hands to prevent the spread of infection and illnesses

Washing your hands with soap can help remove germs and prevent infectious diseases because:

  • People often touch their nose, eyes, and mouth without realizing it. Germs could get into their body through the nose, eyes, and mouth and make them sick.
  • Germs from not washing hands could transfer to food and drinks as they are being prepared or consumed. Bacteria also multiply in specific types of foods or drinks and make people sick.
  • Not washing hands can transfer viruses to different objects, such as handrails, toys, or tabletops, and then moved to other people’s hands.
  • Getting rid of germs through handwashing helps prevent the spread of diseases such as COVID-19.

The right time to wash hands

It is vital to wash hands thoroughly:

  • after using the toilet
  • before, during and after cooking food
  • between handling ready-to-eat, raw and cooked food
  • before eating
  • after using a handkerchief or tissue
  • before and after taking care of sick family members
  • after working in the garden or handling trash
  • after handling animals

It is also important to wash your hands immediately after you transfer from one environment to another. After you enter a new space, wash your hands. This takes care of germs you may have picked up during the transit between one place and another. For instance, wash your hands after you arrive to your work office from your home, and then was again after you arrive at home from the office.

How to wash hands properly

To wash hands correctly, use the following procedure:

  • Wet the hands with clean running water
  • Apply soap and lather thoroughly for 20 seconds
  • Rub your hands together quickly across surfaces of the hands and wrists
  • Don’t miss the backs of the hands, your wrists, in between fingers and under fingernails
  • If you can, remove any hand jewellery before washing hands, and be sure to remove rings as microorganisms could get trapped under them
  • Rinse properly under running water, and be sure to remove all traces of soap
  • Dry hands with a clean towel or air dry them
  • Make use of paper towels when possible

Things to keep in mind when washing your hands

Instructions on how to wash your hands? Well, yes. Even though you've been washing hands your entire life, it's good to keep the following things in mind in order to get the most out of your hygienic routine.

Use running water

It is recommended to use running water, instead of having a basin of standing water as it can get contaminated. Warm water is better than cold for washing. Soap lathers more with warm water. But you can still use soap and cold water if hot is not available.

Soap is essential

Handwashing with water and soap can remove more disease-causing organisms than with water-only. For those who find that soap triggers skin irritation, it is essential to note that soaps have varying pH levels. Some are slightly alkaline, neutral, or slightly acidic. Cleansers that contain perfume can irritate. Changing soap is the best solution.

Should I use antibacterial soap?

COVID-19 is a virus, not a bacteria. The purpose of the soap is not to kill viruses. Instead, it is to make it easier to remove them from your hands. That being said, antibacterial soap is an option to wash your hands (along with other types of soap).

If you want to kill COVID-19, you can consider using surface disinfectants. The type we sell here at UK Meds is effective in killing viruses such as COVID-19.

Hand sanitiser and disposable gloves

If you are going into areas where you suspect you may come into contact with Coronavirus, using a combination of disposable gloves and hand sanitiser is a good option. After you have left the potentially contaminated area, dispose of the gloves and immediately use a hand sanitiser to kill any viruses that potentially are leftover from the glove removal process.

N95 masks - Taking the extra step to stay safe

If you cannot avoid going in public during the pandemic, consider using a breathing filter such as N95 masks. These are effective in preventing COVID-19 infections by blocking moisture droplets that occur from normal respiration, coughing or sneezing. They can be helpful in preventing yourself from catching the Coronavirus, as well as preventing the spread if you happen to be infected.