Good hygiene is an integral part of staying healthy but why is it so important? In this blog we’ll share how disease spreads, the best ways to prevent disease and why good hygiene is essential for all of us.
Let’s start at the beginning and talk germs. The word “germ” is often used to describe microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses; there are also other types of microorganisms such as protozoa. It is important to differentiate, as bacteria are very different to viruses. Bacteria are essentially tiny single-celled animals (not likely to be seen in a zoo any time soon), and can generally only be identified under a microscope. Bacteria normally live harmlessly on or in parts of our bodies e.g. the large intestine, nostrils, mouth and skin, but can also cause infections if they make their way into parts of the body they are not meant to inhabit e.g. the bladder. In some (but not all) cases, antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections e.g. soft tissue infections such as cellulitis; in other cases, bacterial infections will resolve themselves naturally e.g. the majority of uncomplicated bacterial lung infections.
Viruses are even smaller than bacteria; they are essentially made of proteins that function as machinery, and penetrate cells in our bodies to multiply and cause infections. Viruses cause diseases ranging from the common cold, to gastroenteritis, to COVID-19. It is important to note that antibiotics have no effect on viral infections such as the common cold or influenza, and that taking antibiotics unnecessarily decreases their effectiveness across the community. This is a phenomenon known as “antimicrobial resistance”.
Viruses can be passed on in many ways, including by touching other people or contaminated surfaces, by droplets (e.g. coughs and sneezes) and, in some cases e.g. measles, through the air. Some viruses such as influenza and SARS-nCoV-2 in particular can enter the body through the nose, eyes and mouth. Other viruses may be transmitted through other means e.g. blood-to-blood contact for hepatitis C. Once the virus penetrates cells, it can multiply quickly causing an infection.
Bacterial infections can also be transmitted through different means, including close contact with infected people e.g. touching and kissing, contact with bodily fluids, and oral contact with faeces particles as can sometimes be found under fingernails.
This is where good hand hygiene comes in. When good hygiene is maintained, it helps prevent the spread of disease.
You can reduce the risk of transmissible disease if you have good hygiene habits. Here are our tips to maintaining hygiene.
It is easy for disease-causing organisms such as viruses and bacteria to contact your hands from everyday activities and to hide underneath your nails. To prevent this, be sure to:
Wash your hands for 20 seconds or more. Ensure you cover all areas of your hands and wrists. Lather soap between your fingers and clean your nails with a brush if one is available. Rinse your hands under clean running water. Dry with a clean towel or dry in the air. Wash hands before preparing food and eating, after the bathroom, changing nappies, blowing your nose, treating cuts and wounds, touching rubbish, animals and before and after caring for a sick person.
Use a sanitiser containing 60-95% ethanol (alcohol) or isopropanol, especially before and after eating or going to the bathroom. Benefits of using a hand sanitiser are that it requires less time than hand washing, quickly kills microorganisms, is more accessible on-the-go and reduces bacteria on the hands.
Trim your nails to prevent problems such as infected nail beds and hang nails. Brush under them with a nail brush or washcloth. Avoid biting your nails.
Hair and body
When showering, ideally use a soap-free wash as soap depletes the skin’s natural moisturisers. Dry skin tends to be itchy, especially in the cooler winter months, and is associated with increased eczema and psoriaris flareups for those affected.
Overgrowth of the natural bacteria that inhabit armpits and feet are responsible for those offensive odours. Pay particular attention to these areas if affected.
Brush your teeth in the morning and before bed at night for at least two minutes to remove plaque that contains bacteria leading to tooth decay. Be sure to include flossing, a mouthwash and regular dentist visits to your routine. If you don’t take care of your oral health, it can result in cavities and gum disease.
For more information on oral health, read our blog here
Coughing and sneezing
Viral particles can be spread into the air when a person coughs or sneezes and other people can breathe them in. We recommend you:
Cough and sneeze into your flexed elbow or with a tissue to your mouth. If you use a tissue, discard immediately into a closed bin. Remember to wash your hands or use hand sanitiser afterwards.
Avoid touching your face, eyes and mouth as you can infect yourself
Don’t wear surgical masks in public to protect yourself from infections. They have not been shown to reduce the risk of infection, and poorly-fitted masks encourage the user to touch their face more frequently, actually increasing the risk of infection.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, computers, desks, benchtops, phones, keys and wallet.
Wash your makeup brushes, they are prone to carrying dirt and bacteria. By cleaning them weekly, it will make a huge difference to your skin and your makeup will last longer.
Wash your hands before and after coming into contact with a pet, cage or litter tray. Use separate utensils and bowls for handling pet food. It is important to not allow pets on surfaces where food is prepared or served.
For more advice:
If you require further advice and information on how to maintain good hygiene, chat to your local Ramsay Pharmacist. To find your closest pharmacy, please click here.