5th May 2020 is World Hand Hygiene Day, an initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO).  The aim of this day is to recognise that effective handwashing is still one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, including the virus that causes COVID-19.


Why is it so important to wash our hands?

Whilst many of us have been taught from a young age to wash our hands, comparatively few have been told exactly why handwashing is so important.  Whenever we touch a surface, our hands will often pick up any infectious particles known as pathogens; examples include viruses and pathogenic bacteria.  In particular, viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease) and influenza viruses are spread easily through touch, as well as airborne droplets from coughing and sneezing.

We frequently touch our eyes, nose, and mouth without even realising it.  If there are viral particles on our hands, they can then enter the body and make us sick.  Different viruses enter the body through different means.  For example, norovirus, a virus that causes acute vomiting and diarrhoea, enters the body by touching the mouth (e.g. biting nails).  The virus that causes COVID-19 enters the body by touching the eyes, nose or mouth, but not other skin areas.

Pathogens such as viruses can also get into foods and drinks while people prepare or consume them, and unwashed hands can transfer pathogens to other objects, like handrails, doorknobs and keyboards, potentially making other people sick.

No matter how pathogens enter the body, effective handwashing significantly reduces the chances of disease transmission. 


What is the correct way to wash hands?

Many people don’t wash their hands for long enough, or they miss critical areas.  There are two different ways to effectively wash hands that are widely recognised:

  • Soap and water:  Wash hands for at least 20 seconds as follows:

    • Wet hands with running water (preferably warm).

    • Apply soap or liquid soap.

    • Rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds.

    • Make sure you cover all surfaces, including the backs of your hands and in between your fingers.

    • Rinse your hands, making sure you remove all soap, and turn off the tap using the towel or paper towel.

    • Dry your hands thoroughly with a paper towel, a clean hand towel or an air dryer if you are in a public toilet.

  • Hand sanitiser:  Use a sanitiser containing between 60% and 95% ethanol (alcohol) or isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol).  Alcohol-free hand sanitisers have not been shown to work effectively, and may instil a false sense of security.

    • Apply a palmful of hand sanitiser (about half a teaspoon) into a cupped hand and cover all surfaces.

    • Rub palms together, and continue to rub all surfaces including backs of your hands and in between fingers.

    • Continue for at least 20-30 seconds.  If handrub has already dried out, it is a sign that not enough was applied at the beginning.

    • Allow hands to dry naturally.


When should hands be washed?

Hands should be washed with either soap and water or hand sanitiser frequently, and especially when they are visibly soiled. Hands should also be washed:

  • Before preparing food and eating.

  • After using the toilet

  • After changing nappies

  • After blowing your nose

  • Before and after caring for a sick person

  • Before and after treating cuts and wounds

  • After touching rubbish

  • After touching animals


Other ways to prevent the spread of disease:

In addition to frequent handwashing:

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue

  • Put used tissues straight into the bin

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth

  • Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces such as benchtops, desks and doorknobs as well as frequently touched objects such as mobile phones, work passes, keys and wallets.


Your Ramsay Pharmacists have access to the latest information to help you to stay up-to-date and stop the spread of disease.  Also, read our good hygiene blog here for more tips.