Why wash your hands? Is it savoir vivre or our first line of defense against diseases?
This year, fear travels in Asia. There is growing concern in the country about further spreading of the new Corona Virus. According to the authorities, more than 4000 people have been infected and 106 people have died. Sick people have also been reported in several other countries, such as the United States. The World Health Organization has convened a crisis meeting to discuss how to proceed. But what does a virus in Asia have to do with washing your hands?
More ridgid precautions are taken every day at Beijing Airport. These include temperature measurements for passengers who have just landed from Wuhan, where the origin of the new virus lies. The new virus belongs to the Corona virus family and is related to the SARS virus, which led to a pandemic in 2002 and 2003 which also originated in Asia. Most patients have only mild symptoms such as fever and respiratory problems. Five of those who died after the infection are known to have pre-existing conditions when they became infected, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Germs and their consequences
Diseases are not only transmitted by viruses, but also by bacteria, fungi, parasites and algae. In medicine, these pathogens are called germs. These can be transmitted through the air, through contact with our fellow humans, objects or food and then cause illnesses.
Food-borne diseases are estimated to be the leading cause of disease in 48 million people and 3,000 deaths per year in the United States. Foodborne diseases are caused by germs such as the norovirus and the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Salmonella. An example of this is the salad infected with E. coli in June 2018, which has led to many infected people worldwide and the largest outbreak in 12 years.
There are harmless E. coli strains that live in the intestines of humans and animals and support digestion. However, there are also some strains of bacteria that can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infection, respiratory diseases, pneumonia, and even blood poisoning. More importantly, many strains have become resistant to antibiotics due to the over-prescription of antibiotics in farm animals. This means that the meat and animal waste contain antibiotics.
But E. coli is not the only harmful germ. Salmonella is also responsible for hospitalizations and deaths each year, and in 2012 the highly contagious norovirus was the cause of foodborne illnesses that led to vomiting and some deaths.
How are germs transmitted?
Feces from humans and animals often contain such germs. One gram of human feces can contain up to a trillion germs!
If you go to the toilet, change a diaper or touch raw meat and do not wash your hands, these germs can get on your hands and spread to your mouth, eyes, nose, and anything else you touch, e.g. handrails or toys, but also on food and drinks or other people, which can make you and others sick. The germs then multiply and increase the risk of infection for you and others around you.
So let's take some time to wash your hands because too often it happens too quickly and far too fleetingly. It is particularly important now for the influenza season in the northern hemisphere has begun. And washing hands is actually very easy. It is the easiest protection against many diseases. According to studies, the risk of diarrheal illnesses alone can be decreased by 50% just by washing your hands. This is because about 80% of all infectious diseases are transmitted through the hands, but not directly through the skin, but by touching the face. The pathogens can then enter the body through the mucous membranes of the mouth, eyes and nose.
When should I wash my hands in everyday life?
- You come home
- You have visited the toilet
- You changed diapers or if you helped your child after using the toilet
- You have sneezed, coughed or wiped your nose
- You were in contact with household waste
- You have had contact with animals, animal feed or animal waste
- use of medication or cosmetics
Always before and after
- preparation of meals and in between, especially if you have processed raw meat
- contact with the sick
- treatment of wounds
Washing hands properly with soap and water not only reduces respiratory and intestinal diseases, but can also combat antibiotic resistance. Hand washing can prevent diarrhea, respiratory diseases and infections that are usually treated with antibiotics. So if you reduce the number of these infections, you can reduce the number of antibiotics prescribed and taken! In addition, many food-based germs are already resistant to antibiotics. So washing your hands can prevent you from getting germs that are difficult to treat with conventional treatments.That's why it's important to wash your hands!
Here are some mistakes that are often made when washing hands: washing your hands only briefly. It should take a good 20-30 seconds and they should not be washed with too hot water, because the hot water is not much better for the mechanical washing of the germs, but it can attack the protective acid layer of the skin. The skin's protective pH coat is slightly acidic and therefore bacteria cannot enter the skin directly. The pH of the skin is 5 to 5.5. 7 is considered pH-neutral. Classic soaps have a pH of 9, i.e. these disturb the natural acid coating if you wash your hands too often. Better use a soap that is pH - neutral or pH skin neutral.
How do I wash my hands properly?
1) Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap.
Placing your hands in a pool of still water can cause contamination. The use of soap is more effective than water alone because surfactants in the soap remove dirt and microbes from the skin. Studies have not confirmed that antibacterial soaps are better than normal soaps; on the contrary, they can cause bacterial resistance and hormonal effects. So do not use antibacterial soap for household use!
2) Rub your hands while covering them with soap.
Thoroughly soap the back of your hand, between your fingers, your thumb, the palms of your hands, your fingertips, and under your nails. Soaping and scrubbing the hands creates friction, which removes dirt, grease and microbes from the skin.
3) Rub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
A simple trick: hum the entire "Happy Birthday" twice.
4) Rinse your hands thoroughly under clear, running water.
The soap contains the microbes and dirt from your hands so they can be rinsed off. Rinsing also reduced skin irritation.
5) Dry your hands with a paper towel.
In public places, you should also open the door with a paper towel to protect against germs.
Although hand washing is the first line of defense against bacteria and viruses, too much hand washing can do quite the opposite! Firstly, not all bacteria are harmful, but many bacteria in your skin are responsible for good health. Secondly, over-washing your hands can remove protective oils that increase the risk of skin breaks that carry bacteria under your skin and into your body. Removing these protective oils can become a challenge to heal, especially in dry and winter climates!
So, if you wash your hands properly, you will not only avoid food-borne diseases, respiratory diseases, and intestinal diseases, but also fight antibiotic resistance. So make sure your hands are clean and you can reduce the risk of getting sick!