Good hand hygiene (hand washing and drying) is important all year round, but especially as we enter the holiday period and want to spend time with loved ones (and not worry about getting sick). Here are five surprising facts about hand hygiene that you should keep in mind to ensure that you and your loved ones have a healthy holiday season.
By now you’d think that most people would make a priority of handwashing, but sadly, many people still don’t wash their hands as often as they should. Here are 5 surprising facts about hand hygiene which might make you think twice the next time you plan to skip the soap and water regime.
1. Over 1,000 different germs can live on hands
These include pathological (harmful) bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus (an opportunistic pathogen that can cause serious infection), and Escherichia coli (which can cause severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhoea, and vomiting) as well as viruses which cause the common cold, influenza, or even the norovirus, which causes viral gastroenteritis.
2. 80% of diseases are spread by hands
A staggering 80% of communicable diseases are transferred by touch alone, which means that they can be easily prevented by implementing proper hand-washing practices. Touching food with contaminated hands – for example – spreads foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella.
While diarrhoea remains the second most common cause of childhood death, simple and effective handwashing can reduce diarrhoea rates by up to 40%. See our article on “fact or fiction – are all bacteria bad?” to find out more about good vs bad bacteria.
The Western Cape has seen a marked increase in cases of pertussis (whooping cough) this year since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. The NICD said: “in September 2022, the majority of cases, 79%, were reported from Western Cape and numbers higher than those reported from this province pre-Covid-19.”
Symptoms of whooping cough are similar to the common cold and may include nasal congestion, runny nose, mild sore throat, mild dry cough, and minimal or no fever. Good hand hygiene can play a huge role in preventing transmission. While unpleasant for adults, whooping cough is potentially fatal for newborns, meaning that hand hygiene is a critical part of preventing transmission to young, vulnerable babies.
3. Damp hands spread germs
Even if you do wash your hands vigorously after using the bathroom, if you don’t dry them thoroughly afterwards, your efforts could be counter-productive.
Only 20% of us say that we dry our hands after washing them which is concerning considering that damp hands are 1000 times more likely to spread bacteria than dry hands. You can read all about the 4 reasons why drying your hands is so important.
It’s also important to think about how you’re drying your hands. Re-usable cloths harbour millions of bacteria so try to opt for disposable paper towels or a hand dryer with a HEPA filter (such as Initial’s Luna dryer) if you can.
4. Germs travel
The problem with not washing your hands is that you then transfer germs to everything you touch. You may not think this sounds like a big deal but studies have found:
- The average kitchen chopping board has around 200% more faecal bacteria on it than a toilet seat does
- Handbags can carry up to 10,000 bacteria per square inch and 30% of bags tested were found to have faecal bacteria on them (Read our post: How clean is your handbag?)
- Smartphones can carry more than 30,000 bacteria units per swab (Read our post: Do you use your phone in the bathroom?)
- The average office desk has 400 times more bacteria on it than a toilet seat does
- The average keyboard can also contain more bacteria than a toilet seat (Read our post: 5 ways to keep your laptop clean)
- 26,000 live bacteria can be found on the average banknote (Read our post: How should I handle money?)
5. Washing your hands can fight antibiotic resistance
Washing your hands can prevent around 30% of diarrhoea-related illnesses and approximately 20% of respiratory infections such as colds. Because antibiotics are often prescribed for these health issues, thorough hand washing can help to prevent antibiotic resistance.
Overuse is the single biggest factor causing antibiotic resistance but washing our hands can prevent illness (and thus the need to take antibiotics) thus reducing the likelihood that antibiotic resistance will develop. Good handwashing practices can also prevent people from getting sick with illnesses which are already resistant to antibiotics and are therefore difficult to treat.
I hope these 5 facts about hand washing have given you something to think about over the holiday season. No one wants to spend their leave sick in bed because they picked up something that could have been avoided with a bit of soap and water.
To sign off, I thought I’d leave you with a poem written by a new AI software that I’ve been playing around with (it also generated the images in the banner). When asked to “write a poem about the horrors of unwashed hands” this is what it produced…(not bad for a computer!)
Germs and bacteria, oh what a fright,
They lurk on our hands day and night.
If we don’t wash them, they’ll multiply,
And cause all sorts of sickness, oh my!
In our noses, mouths, and on our skin,
Germs can spread and cause a din.
From the flu to the common cold,
They make us feel weak and old.
But we can fight back, with soap and water,
And keep these germs from growing further.
It’s important to wash our hands well,
And avoid getting sick – it’s simply swell.
So let’s all do our part,
And keep hands clean from the start.
For the sake of our health and well-being,
Practice good hygiene, and keep germs from winning.