Anyone who has been following this blog for any length of time will know that the team here at Initial are passionate about hygiene, and that hand hygiene, in particular, is a subject about which we like to talk – and write – often! And that’s why the month of October holds such significance for us. October is the month in which we – and millions of others around the world – celebrate Global Handwashing Day (GHD).
Now, if you’ve been following our blog for a while, you may remember that I wrote about GHD 2017 and how our branches celebrated in this blog post. But for those of you that are new to Initial’s Insights page, let me catch you up quickly.
The 15th October is Global Handwashing Day: a global advocacy day celebrated annually and dedicated to increasing awareness around the importance of washing hands with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.
The GHD awareness campaign was instituted by the World Health Organisation to curtail the spread of common germs and viral infections in developing countries, including South Africa. Every year millions of people are reminded that soap is still the number one weapon in the fight against transmissible diseases such as diarrhea and lower-respiratory-tract infections.
No matter what the disease, its spread can be halted if people – especially young children – cultivate the habit of regular handwashing. When done properly, good hand hygiene can be one of the cheapest, simplest and most effective ways to help you avoid getting sick.
This year, the Global Handwashing Day theme focuses on the link between handwashing and food, including food hygiene and nutrition. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 40% of foodborne illnesses are transmitted via germs on our hands. Handwashing is, therefore, an important part of keeping food safe and preventing foodborne illnesses, and this year’s GHD tagline ‘Clean hands – a recipe for health’ is a reminder to make handwashing a part of every meal.
Initial recently commissioned some family research in support of Global Handwashing Day, which aimed to highlight the importance of making handwashing a part of every meal. The research involved taking swabs from 14 families across Malaysia, France, the UK, South Africa, and Spain, with results recorded twice a day (before breakfast and dinner). Families swabbed their hands for two days (after using their normal handwashing routine), and for two days after using a robust step-by-step routine provided by Initial.
Our swabs measured the presence of Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) on the hands. ATP is present in all animal, vegetable, bacteria, yeast and mould cells. Detection of ATP indicates the presence of contamination by any one of these sources. ATP testing kits (or Lumitesters) use relative light units (RLU) as the unit of measure for ATP.
I was privileged to be a part of this research and had the task of lining up three South African families with children who would be game to participate in what was a fun – and eye-opening – experience. All three of my participating families were genuinely surprised at how dirty their hands became during the course of the day, and said that the swabbing process was not only a novel experience, but a real eye-opener. Plus their kids loved using the swabbing kit and the Lumitesters, and being part of a ‘real science experiment’.
Mealtimes: the perfect hand hygiene recipe for young ones
Like most things, good hand hygiene starts at home, and good habits start in childhood. Children are naturally curious and exploring things by touch can cause their hands to become a breeding ground for germs and bacteria.
Our recent family research found that even when children had a low swab count (under 500) on their hands, they still had 47% more ATP than adults. However, our research also showed that good hand hygiene practices can improve hand hygiene levels by up to 79% for children, and 89% for adults!
Children learn by seeing and doing rather than just listening, so teaching them about handwashing should be interactive and fun. Here are a few fun tips to form good hygiene habits as a family:
- Use non-toxic, fingerpaints to create handprints that illustrate how germs can be transmitted
- Use those paint covered hands to practice proper handwashing techniques together
- Join in! Wash your hands with your children to set a good example, so good hand hygiene habits can be built together
- Family life is busy, so try writing a diary as a family of every time your children wash their hands for a week. Reward positive behaviour with treats or gold stars
The recipe for clean hands
We know that clean hands are a recipe for health, but what’s the recipe for clean hands? The correct routine should allow for a minimum of 20 seconds, and includes the following steps:
- Wet hands and apply soap
- Rub hands, palm to palm
- Interlace fingers, rub hands together, then right palm to top of left hand and vice versa
- Curl fingers into opposing palm and rub side to side
- Clasp each hand around opposing thumb and rub in a rotational manner
- Rotational rubbing in both directions by placing your fingertips of each hand in opposing palm
- Rinse hands under running water
- Dry hands thoroughly (and sanitise if desired)
It is important to note that water alone doesn’t clean hands effectively – you really do need soap – and that rinsing soapy hands thoroughly under running water offers the best chance of avoiding contamination. Drying well is just as important though, as bacteria breed in damp environments. You can download our office handwashing posters here.
Conclusion: it’s easier than you think
Despite the fact that families sometimes forget the importance of handwashing due to the general busyness of day to day life, the recipe for good hand hygiene is quick, and simple to implement. And in doing so, you are safeguarding your families health and wellbeing.