HEALTH | Hand hygiene

by Ma. Janice C. Martires
In the mid-1800s, scientific studies revealed the link between the spread of diseases and the hands of health care workers. This was a revelation at that time, because for a long period, the link had not been established and the belief that small microorganisms on dirty hands can cause infections was not widespread. All that changed as two studies by Ignaz Semmelweis in 1846 and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. in 1843 proved that there was indeed a link. Thus, handwashing slowly became the norm not only for health care workers but also for regular individuals.

Hand hygiene, defined as the cleaning of hands through washing or the use of antibacterial sanitizers in between washing sessions, remains today as the important measure for preventing the spread of diseases. Yet there are still many misconceptions surrounding hand hygiene that confuse not only regular people but also health workers.

The first misconception is that one needs to use antibacterial soap when cleaning hands. This is a myth because any good hand soap will do the job. Non-antibacterial soaps also have the advantage of being cheaper than antibacterial ones. That said, antibacterial soap is good for particular instances, such as when there are pets inside the household, or in hospitals or clinics where the immune system of people are compromised or weak.

The second misconception is that if one uses antibacterial soap, one does not need to wash as often. The kind of soap one uses does not affect the frequency by which one needs to wash hands. Whether one uses antibacterial soap or regular non-antibacterial soap, one needs to wash hands often. Some instances when handwashing is important is after going to the restroom, after changing a child’s diapers, before eating, after touching animals, before putting on contact lenses, after getting soil on one’s hands, before and after handling meat, fish or poultry, and before taking medicines.

The third misconception is that using warm air dryers helps reduce bacteria on one’s hands. This is a myth was dispelled just as recently as 2008. It was discovered by a study in the United Kingdom that paper towels are a much more effective way of reducing the amount of bacteria on one’s hands, as opposed to warm air dryers or jet air dryers.

The fourth misconception is that hand sanitizers eliminate all types of germs. This is false because hand sanitizers, even when they contain 60 percent alcohol, cannot break down grease.

The last misconception is that the toilet is the dirtiest area inside the house. There are, in fact, other areas that often harbor more germs, such as cutting boards, stove knobs, kitchen counters, pet toys and bowls, toothbrush holders, kitchen sinks, and dish sponges. These areas were found to have the presence of yeast, mold, and coliform bacteria on them.

Arming ourselves with proper and verified information can help us stay well and prevent the spread of infection. Remember that handwashing, although an underrated aspect of health care, can be our shield against sickness and must therefore never be taken for granted in our quest for health.