Washing our hands is probably the first rule of hygiene we learn, the simplest and one of the most effective. On May 5th, World Hand Hygiene Day, many countries around the world celebrate this crucial practice for care and prevention.
How it started.
World Hand Hygiene Day is one of the newest international events in health care: the first Global Handwashing Day was held in 2008, when over 120 children in more than 70 countries took part in an original initiative by washing their hands with soap all at the same time.
Since then, May 5th has been a symbolic date to promote and support good handwashing practices, making them a basic habit in our everyday life.
Why it’s important.
Washing our hands is the easiest and most effective way to prevent spreading diseases, infections and microbes, especially in hospitals: an estimated 15-30% of infections could be avoided simply by keeping hands clean at all times.
Indeed, the bacterial flora on the palms and backs of our hands tends to constantly grow as we touch various surfaces and substances – but thorough cleansing can eliminate most microorganisms.
This good habit is even more important in hospital settings: an estimated 8 million deaths in the world could be avoided thanks to careful hand hygiene.
To this end, hospital best practices define 5 crucial moments when caregivers must wash their hands:
- Before touching a patient;
- Before any aseptic procedure;
- After exposure to biological fluids;
- After touching a patient;
- After touching anything around the patient.
There are ongoing awareness campaigns for hand hygiene all over the world, especially in schools, health care structures and where food is handled. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also defined 6 simple rules to follow when washing our hands:
- Always use soap (preferably liquid soap) and rinse with running water (preferably warm);
- Apply soap to both palms and rub your hands for at least 40-60 seconds, covering all areas: the backs of the hands, in between fingers and most importantly under the nails, where germs tend to hide more easily;
- Rinse thoroughly with water;
- Dry your hands with disposable paper towels, a hot-air hand dryer or a clean towel;
- Avoid touching faucets and handles once your hands are clean: use a paper towel;
- Prevent skin irritations caused by harsh detergents or prolonged washing by applying a moisturizing lotion or cream.
- May 5th, or 5/5, was picked as World Hand Hygiene Day to symbolically represent hands’ 5 fingers.
- The 2018-2019 Hygiene and Health Report highlights some interesting data on hand hygiene across the world. For example, 65% of interviewees in Spain state they do not wash their hands after blowing their nose; over half of the interviewees in China don’t wash their hands after treating a wound; two out of three people in Sweden don’t wash their hands after touching animals; and 58% of people in the Netherlands don’t wash their hands before eating.
- There are also relevant differences between men and women: in Italy, men wash their hands an average of 7.3 times a day, against women’s 10. The figures are similar in the rest of Europe, Mexico, Australia and the United States. In China these averages decrease to 6.7 times a day for women and 6.8 for men.