How dirty are your hands?

The 15th of October has been decreed a day to focus on germs. Specifically, it’s the germs on your hands that are in the firing line.

According to the Hygiene Council over 30% of child deaths in developing nations, specifically in Africa, are caused by preventable communicable diseases.  A communicable disease is an illness caused by a virus or bacteria being transferred from person to person by direct contact. Examples include pneumonia, influenza, chickenpox and diarrhoea.  The World Health Organization estimates that 3.5 million children die from diarrhoea and lower respiratory-tract infections each year.

That’s why Global Hand-Washing Day was decreed: the first line of defence against many of these diseases is as simple as washing your hands. Something we all do, right?

According to a global survey conducted by the Global Hygiene Council, 53% of the respondants said they wash their hands for 10 seconds or less after using the toilet. About 24% for said they washed for five seconds and 29% for 10 just over seconds. The optimal time for washing your hands is 20 seconds.

Dettol, another supporter of Global Hand-Washing Day, has developed a partnership with The Children’s Hospital Trust, and will be donating R1 for every 150ml or 250ml Dettol liquid hand-wash sold. All proceeds will be donated to the Red Cross Children’s Hospital and Paediatric Healthcare in the Western Cape.

According to Dettol, 60% of child deaths in South Africa are from diarrhoea and pneumonia. It is also estimated that 17% of African children under five die from diarrhoea and 14% from pneumonia.

Fifty percent of pneumonia cases in children younger than five can be prevented by hand-washing. Another alarming statistic is that 24% of South Africans wash their hands with running water only, which is not enough to shift bacteria. An anti-bacterial soap is essential for keeping your hands hygienically clean.  

When to wash your hands

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 is 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 dry thoroughly.

No drip dry

It is also important to dry your hands. Because bacteria and viruses love moist, damp areas, they will spread to damp hands – so getting your hands dry is just as important as cleaning them.

It’s also vital to clean objects that we interact with on a daily basis, including

  • Computer keyboards
  • Telephones
  • Cell phones
  • Toothbrushes (should be replaced every 3 months)
  • TV remote controls
  • Kitchen sponges, dishcloths, sinks and cutting boards
  • Rubbish bins

Keep in mind that a completely sterile home is neither achievable nor desirable. Without germs we wouldn’t have a well-developed immune system. But basic hand hygiene gives you a better chance of keeping a whole host of nasties at bay. 

(Kyle Boshoff, Health24, updated October 2011)

Read more: 

Germs in your car

Beat germs with soap and water

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