Washing Hands Regularly is Key to Prevention of COVID

Until COVID-19 happened, hand washing and its importance in helping prevent the spread of diseases is something that most of us probably never gave much thought to. But the global pandemic has really shone a light on the importance of hand washing, meaning this day now carries extra relevance, even though it has been around since 2008.

Global Hand Washing Day is observed every year on October 15. It was founded by the Global Hand Washing Partnership, an international coalition of organizations working to promote hand washing with soap. It is an annual global advocacy day dedicated to raise awareness about the benefits of hand washing with soap as an easy, effective, and affordable way to prevent diseases, promote health and save lives, but still it is not practiced as often or as thoroughly as it should be.

Global Hand Washing Day

Global Hand washing Day provides an opportunity to encourage people to wash their hands with soap, especially during critical times.  On this day, the community as well as national leaders and influencers have used this day as an opportunity to spread awareness about the value of clean hands. It really is a valuable message, hand washing is such a simple practice, but it really can make all the difference and save lives.

It aims to create a culture of hand washing with soap in all societies and to inform people about the benefits of hand washing with soap.  It is also used to make people to understand how hand washing can prevent the spread of disease, and encourage more hand washing within society.

Clean Care is Safer Care

Each year, hundreds of millions of patients around the world are affected by health care-associated infections (HCAIs). Although HCAI is the most frequent adverse event in health care, its true global burden remains unknown because of the difficulty in gathering reliable data. Most health care-associated infections are preventable through good hand hygiene – cleaning hands at the right times and in the right way.

Hand Washing – Make it a Habit

Make hand washing a habit! Implement it as a family before meals. Promote hand washing in homes, schools, workplaces, health facilities, and more. Few ways that can make hand washing a habit-

  • Wash your hands with soap at critical times, especially before eating, cooking, or feeding others.
  • Model good hand washing behavior, and remind or help others to always wash their hands before eating.
  • Make hand washing part of your family meals.
  • Establish places to wash your hands in the household, in your community, in schools, workplaces, and in health facilities.
  • Promote effective hand washing behavior change in research, policy, programs, and advocacy.

Impact of Hand Washing with Soap-

  • 47% of diarrheal diseases preventable through hand washing.
  • 16% of respiratory infections preventable through hand washing.
  • 1:92 estimated return on investment of national hand washing behavior change program in India.
  • 40% reduction in healthcare associated infections with correct hand hygiene.

Steps to wash hands properly:

  • Wet hands with water
  • Apply enough soap to cover all hand surfaces
  • Rub hands with palm to palm
  • Place right palm over left dorsum (back of hand) with interlaced fingers and vice versa
  • Put palm to palm with fingers interlaced
  • Backs of fingers to opposing palms with finger interlocked
  • Rotational rubbing of left thumb clasped in right palm and vice versa
  • Rotational rubbing, backwards and forwards with clasped fingers of right hand in left palm and vice versa
  • Rinse hands with water
  • Dry thoroughly with a single use towel or clean towel
  • Use towel (single use) to turn off faucet
  • Use alcohol-based hand rubs or sanitizers if you don’t have immediate access to soap and water.

Hand Washing, Key to COVID prevention

Coronavirus is a respiratory illness, meaning it is mostly spread through virus-laden droplets from coughs and sneezes. If you don’t catch your coughs and sneezes in a tissue and safely dispose of it, the virus can end up on surfaces. If someone else touches that contaminated surface, the virus can transfer onto their hand. If you have the virus on your hands, you can infect yourself by touching your eyes, mouth or nose. You might think that you don’t touch your face very often, but it’s much more than you realise. A 2015 study found that people touch their faces an average of 23 times an hour.

While washing your hands is useful in preventing yourself from getting infected, this is not the main reason the Government recommends it.  Corona virus is an ‘enveloped virus’. This means it has a protective outer layer known as a ‘lipid bilayer’. The molecules making up this layer are shaped like a tadpole, with a water-loving (hydrophilic) round head and a water-hating (hydrophobic) tail. These molecules arrange themselves into a ‘bilayer’: two layers piled on top of each other into a sheet, with tails pointing inwards and heads pointing outwards. The molecules are pulled closely into each other to protect the hydrophobic tails from the water in your respiratory droplets when you cough or sneeze. The hydrophilic heads are very ‘sticky’, meaning the virus is very effective at sticking to your hands – perfect for a microbe that’s trying very hard to infect you.

Soap molecules also have this tadpole structure, which is what makes it so useful. When you have something oily on your hands, running water won’t get rid of it. Add soap to your hands – the hydrophobic tail will cling to the oil, and the hydrophilic head will stick to the water. Now, the oil will come straight off.  Because the soap molecules are so similar to the ones making up the outer layer of the virus, the molecules in the lipid bilayer are as strongly attracted to soap molecules as they are to each other.  This disrupts the neatly-ordered shell around the virus, dissolving it in the running water and killing the virus.

So it is very clear that simple hand washing with soap can completely prevent you getting COVID and also stops its spread.  Thus making hand washing is a key to prevent COVID.   Not only the COVID, regular hand washing can also prevent several other infections, hence making it more advisable to clean the hands with soap regularly.

– Dr Sudhir Chalasani, Consultant Physician & Internal Medicine, Apollo Clinics, Hyderabad.

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