New Delhi | Dr Sonar Narula: Handwashing has been known to prevent infections and improve health since almost two centuries. Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor working in Vienna General Hospital, is known as the father of hand hygiene and Oliver Wendell Holmes in Boston, USA, established that hospital-acquired diseases were transmitted via the hands of health care workers.

Florence Nightingale implemented handwashing and other hygiene practices in the war hospital in which she worked. Sadly, the hand hygiene practices promoted by Semmelweis and Nightingale were not widely adopted for a long time.

In recent years, handwashing with soap and other forms of hand hygiene has been gaining recognition as a cost-effective, essential tool for achieving good health and preventing infections.

Why it is important 

The provision of safe water, sanitation and hygienic conditions is essential to protecting human health during all infectious disease outbreaks, including the COVID-19 outbreak. Current evidence indicates that the COVID-19 virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets or contact.

Contact transmission occurs when contaminated hands touch the mucosa of the mouth, nose, or eyes; the virus can also be transferred from one surface to another by contaminated hands, which facilitates indirect contact transmission.

Consequently, hand hygiene is extremely important to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It also interrupts transmission of other viruses and bacteria causing common colds, flu and pneumonia, thus reducing the general burden of disease.

The international campaign, “My five moments for hand hygiene” defines the key moments at which healthcare workers should comply with hygiene rules while making contact with patients or their surroundings. For the rest of the population, washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after they have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing is highly recommended.

1. It’s especially important to wash:

  • Before eating or preparing food
  • Before touching your face
  • After using the restroom
  • After leaving a public place
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After handling your mask
  • After changing a diaper
  • After caring for someone sick
  • After touching animals or pets

2. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has seen a focus of education and information on handwashing aimed both at people working within the health sector as well as to the general public.

There has been a proliferation of public health messages through various sources about the importance of handwashing, and the correct techniques for handwashing. Memes and short videos aimed at reaching people on their handheld devices, as well as through social media, and mainstream television, radio, print ads and billboards are all in use, and all with the same message that effective handwashing is crucial to stopping the spread of COVID-19.

This has led to increased awareness and compliance to hand hygiene. During COVID-19 pandemic the overall compliance of hand hygiene has increased and it’s around 80 -85%, more due to fear of COVID-19 pandemic and also awareness across the globe.

It is found that though all the steps are not followed by general populations, but most of them started keeping hand rub (alcohol based) with them while the get out of their home and use it after touching any surface.

People are getting used to this new normal of wearing mask, washing hands and keeping distance which is important for prevention of COVID 19 and will further definitely help to decrease the spread of other infections like Tuberculosis and H1N1.

(The article is written by Dr Sonar Narula, Consultant Microbiology, Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre)

Posted By: Abhinav Gupta