- Improved handwashing with soap reduces the risk of diarrhoea: CDC
- Handwashing can prevent respiratory infections, such as a cold: CDC
- Handwashing is an important preventive measures against COVID-19: WHO
New Delhi: Human hands come into contact with various surfaces, foods, animals and fellow humans every day. Each touch can be a source of germs, viruses and bacteria and the hand can become a medium of transmitting these disease-causing elements to enter the body. According to experts, keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps people can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. For years, efforts have been made to promote handwashing as an essential habit to prevent diseases. “Maintaining hand hygiene by washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds regularly or by rubbing hand sanitizer is a simple act that can save lives. Soap molecules trap and destabilise microorganism and cause it to detach from the skin,” explains Dr KK Aggarwal, Former President, Indian Medical Association.
Dr Shweta Khandelwal, Additional Professor, Public Health Foundation Of India (PHFI), Delhi explains,
People touch their face more than they realise. They use their hands to prepare and eat food. They even touch other people including the sick, senior citizens, babies and those with compromised immunity. Thus, unclean hands not only allow direct entry of pathogen in the body through the mucous membrane, contaminated food and cause diseases, but it also spreads the infection to others.
Here are some of the diseases and conditions that can be prevented by washing hands regularly:
The novel coronavirus that has caused the ongoing global pandemic of COVID-19 is spread through tiny droplets from the infected person’s breath, cough, and sneeze, as per experts. Inhaling the droplets or touching surfaces that an infected person has been in contact with can lead to the spread of the infection. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and experts from across the world have emphasized the importance of following hand hygiene to prevent the infection from spreading. It is one of the cheapest, easiest and most effective measures against the coronavirus. According to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), regular handwashing with soap can reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 infection by 36 per cent.
Common cold might not be as serious as coronavirus but it still makes the patient weak and uncomfortable, says Dr Aggarwal. Handwashing can lower the risk of catching common cold, he asserted.
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States of America, Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. Flu viruses spread mainly via tiny droplets generated when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. It also spreads when a surface or object that has flu virus on it is touched and then the same hand comes in contact with one’s own mouth, nose or eyes. CDC says that apart from getting the flu vaccine, frequent handwashing also helps in combating the disease.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV)
According to CDC, almost all children will have an RSV infection by the time they turn two. People infected with RSV usually show symptoms within 4 to 6 days after getting infected which include runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Avoid touching face with unwashed hands, says CDC while listing the methods of preventing RSV.
CDC says that faeces from people or animal is a source of germs like Salmonella, E. coli O157, and norovirus that cause diarrhoea. It added that a single gram of human feces—which is about the weight of a paper clip—can contain one trillion germs. Diarrhoea is most commonly caused by viruses passed from person to person, or by eating or drinking food or water contaminated. WHO says that diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old killing over 5 lakh (5,25,000) children every year.
According to CDC, handwashing can effectively reduce the number of people who get sick with diarrhoea by a significant 23-40 per cent.
Also known as Pink Eye, Conjunctivitis is caused by viruses, bacteria and allergens, according to CDC. When people rub their eyes to alleviate the discomfort and then touch their surroundings, the pathogens that cause Conjunctivitis to end up on surfaces touched, and from there it can be transmitted to others. CDC says that Conjunctivitis can be prevented by practicing good hygiene. It recommends that a person suffering from Conjunctivitis and those who are around someone with the condition must wash their hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
Hand Foot And Mouth Disease
Common among children, hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD) is caused by contact transmission from an infected person’s nose, mouth, blisters, and feces that get on hands and then into the mouth. The disease causes sores on the mouth and throat, a rash on the hands and feet, a fever and loss of appetite. CDC recommends inculcating the habit of frequent handwashing in the family, especially among children and said that they should be encouraged to keep their hands out of their mouth.
Hepatitis A, a viral infection that can cause liver problems, jaundice, abdominal pain, is often spread via contaminated food prepared by people who have not cleaned their hands properly after using the bathroom. According to Dr Aggarwal, practising good hand washing techniques is one of the easiest ways of preventing Hepatitis A from spreading.
Worm Infestation is another illness that can be prevented by improving hand hygiene, says Dr Aggarwal. According to WHO, humans become infected with worms due to eggs or larvae of worms in contaminated food and vegetables that are not carefully washed and cooked. These can also spread through unclean hands or utensils or through penetration of the skin by infective hookworm larvae in contaminated soil.
CDC says that handwashing can prevent infections, respiratory diseases, foodborne diseases among others and thus reduce the amount of antibiotics that people use. This will further help in battling the rise in antibiotic resistance across the globe, as per CDC. Antimicrobial resistance, according to CDC, is a condition that happens when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. According to WHO, antibiotic resistance leads to higher medical costs, prolonged hospital stays, and increased mortality.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.