I recently posted about "germie" ice in restaurants [here] because there are those who seem to have difficulty grasping the concept of washing their hands after certain bodily functions are performed. Today I found a wonderful article about the benefits of hand washing:
Poster used in the Cape Town study to educate children on proper ways to wash their hands.
IT's a simple thing to do.
Yet many tend not to make it a habit to wash their hands — after using the toilet, before and after handling food, or anytime their hands are exposed to germs.
By using soap and clean water to disinfect, the risk of infectious diseases can be reduced significantly.
Studies show that such diseases are usually spread through hand-to-hand contact.
The germs are spread when people touch food or surfaces that have been handled by dirty hands. Diarrhoea, the common cold, pneumonia and acute respiratory and skin infections are some of the illnesses that can ensue as a result.
Inadequate hand washing and cross-contamination is responsible for as much as 40 per cent of food-borne diseases, including salmonella, hepatitis A, shigellosis, staphylococcus, streptococcus, E. Coli and many yet unidentified and dangerous viral infections.
In a study presented at the 13th International Congress on Infectious Diseases in Kuala Lumpur recently, a strong association with fewer illnesses was found when families practised hand hygiene.
The study's sample consisted of communities living in squatter and residential areas in Cape Town, South Africa.
The communities were chosen based on several criteria: those with only communal access to clean water and communal latrines/buckets (i.e. squatter areas); communities whose under-five mortality rate is at least four times higher than other areas; and areas that spent only 40 per cent of the total health-care expenditure on a public health system that serves 80 per cent of the population, among others.
These communities were taught proper hand washing methods, given "hand washing stations", had their food vendors induced to practise hygienic food preparation and instructed on how to manage communal toilets.
In residential neighbourhoods, the study found there was a 78.5 per cent reduction of respiratory diseases, 77.3 per cent in skin diseases, and 81 per cent in gastrointestinal diseases in children under five years old.
In "shack communities", there was a 56.2 per cent reduction in respiratory diseases, 84.1 per cent in gastrointestinal illnesses and 64.2 per cent in skin infections under the same age bracket.
He [Cole, a professor in the Department of Health Science at Brigham Young University] said about 1.9 million die from acute respiratory infections annually, with 70 per cent of them from Africa and Southeast Asia.
The major respiratory pathogens are streptococcus pneumoniae, haemophilus influenzae type B, respiratory synctial virus, parainfluenza virus type 3 and the influenza virus.
Sungai Buloh Hospital head and consultant of infectious diseases Dr Christopher K.C. Lee said that a wide range of non-medical interventions — from personal hygiene to wearing masks, quarantine and the screening of travellers — can potentially reduce the spread of germs.
"Hand hygiene remains a pre-requisite for preventing the transmission of disease," he said.
In H5N1, an influenza virus subtype, hand hygiene, which includes hand washing with soap and the use of alcohol-based hand rubs, is critical to prevent possible contamination of the nose, mouth and conjunctivae by unwashed hands."
He said in public buildings, minimising the exposure of humans to viruses is the key to reducing risks of infection.
Preventive measures in such places include encouraging frequent hand washing, ensuring the building's occupants and visitors have access to facilities for proper personal hygiene, and ensuring surfaces are cleaned regularly.
"It is so easy to stop the spread of germs and infectious diseases by washing your hands. While many of us do make the effort to ensure hand hygiene, there are also others who take it lightly.
"We should no longer think of hand hygiene as insignificant."
There are those who have ridiculed the campaign espousing "hand hygiene" as a vital [and worth trumpeting] part of pandemic NPIs (Non-pharmaceutical Interventions) and, honestly, their little snits of ridicule generally evoke a bit of snit from me, as I believe hand washing to be akin to the First and Last line of defense against pandemic influenza. Of course, there's a whole passel of other things in between first and last – just to be clear on that.
We don't fully know the role surface and hand contamination plays in the transmission of diseases in general, and we are even more ignorant when it comes to the transmission of the influenza virus and the degree fomite transference plays. The study this article references may alleviate some of that ignorance – to say nothing of the snits of ridicule.