In the last 12 months, we have all spent a great deal of time adapting our lives to the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. During that time, the primary concern for many people has been how they can continue living their lives while protecting their health and those around them.
We know that good hand hygiene is vital to control the spread of COVID-19. The UK government recently launched a new campaign to remind people about the importance of hand hygiene. However, as the vaccine roll-out pushes forward, we mustn’t let the habits of hand hygiene fall by the wayside.
The reason that hand hygiene has been so widely pushed during the pandemic by government guidelines and health organisations alike is that our hands play a significant role in the spread of viruses and bacteria, including coronavirus.
By continuing to embed hand hygiene practices into our daily lives against a backdrop of vaccination, we can each do our part in curbing the rate of infection, protecting the vulnerable and allowing for risk-free contact once restrictions are lifted.
Below, we have outlined why hand hygiene is so vital in the fight against coronavirus and what best practice looks like.
- How germs spread through hand contact
- What good hand hygiene looks like
- The benefits of a healthy hand hygiene culture
How germs spread through hand contact
There are different ways for germs to spread, but the hands are the leading pathway. A study found that 80% of infections are spread by skin contact, with hand contact contributing to a large percentage of foodborne diseases and responsible for the majority of transmission in healthcare environments.
Astonishingly, research has estimated that if everyone were to regularly and properly wash their hands, up to a million deaths could be prevented every year.
Given the vast range of surfaces our hands touch, we come into contact with 840,000 germs every 30 minutes. On top of this, hands often find their ways near other areas of our body, such as through eating, using the toilet, biting nails and touching our faces. It is also common to use your hands to cover up a cough or sneeze – two prominent symptoms of illness. Germs survive for up to three hours on your hands.
This makes it easy for our hands to both spread bacteria from surfaces to our bodies and spread illness already present in our bodies to surfaces. From here, other people can touch those same surfaces and become infected. This is before you even consider direct contact between people touching, holding or shaking hands.
The role that hands take in transferring germs from person to person mean that it is essential to utilise good hygiene to kill germs before they contaminate. However, all too commonly, hands are not cleaned properly.
Globally, only 1 in 5 people wash their hands after using the bathroom, partially due to access issues. For those with access to handwashing facilities, only 5% wash them properly, with many not using soap, covering the entire hand area or washing for the recommended 20 seconds.
The combination of the infection risk and the lack of appropriate hygiene means our hands are potential hazards when it comes to disease, helping to facilitate the spread of coronavirus and several other viruses. However, it also means that deploying efficient hand hygiene can have real, seismic effects in the fight against such infection.
What good hand hygiene looks like
The essence of good hand hygiene is ensuring systematic, adequate sanitation of hands at regular points during the day.
Effective handwashing can be described as:
- Lasting 20-30 seconds
- Using soap and warm water
- Covering all surface areas, including the commonly missed parts like the back of hands, between fingers, thumb and entire palm
Public Health England has created a step-by-step guide to hand-cleaning to show you best practice.
Washing must also be done frequently, particularly at moments when the risk of infection is highest. The World Health Organisation (WHO) developed the ‘Five Moments for Hand Hygiene’ guidelines for improving hand hygiene in healthcare settings, but on a more general scale, hands should be cleaned at these times:
- After using the bathroom or changing a nappy
- Before and after handling food, and before eating
- After coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose
- Before and after treating a wound
- After touching or handling animals
- After handling waste or when your hands are visibly dirty
- Before and after caring for someone who may be sick
You may also wish to wash or disinfect hands at any time when you think you have been in contact with a contaminated surface or if asked to when entering a venue (as per their COVID-19 guidelines).
To better minimise infection risk, good hygiene must be supported by granting individuals access to handwashing facilities or adequate alternatives in public spaces, venues, and workplaces.
Commonly, this will mean providing working sinks and soap. However, there may be some contexts where handwashing facilities are not accessible or preferrable, such as in outdoor spaces, while on the move or when time is in short supply. In these instances, hand sanitiser provides a useful alternative.
If using hand sanitiser, it is fundamental to find one that works for your needs. The WHO recommends an alcohol-based sanitiser, this can be faster and more effective than traditional hand washing. However, there may be specific settings where non-alcohol sanitisers are required, so you need to consider the context and find a product that works for you.
Hand hygiene posters can also be displayed to remind people of best practice and encourage diligence, helping to create a culture of hand hygiene in workplaces and public spaces.
The benefits of a healthy hand hygiene culture
Creating and maintaining a culture of hand hygiene carries many benefits. It means better protection against illness for individuals, including coronavirus, common colds, flu, foodborne disease, and many other infectious diseases.
For healthcare providers, this means a lower volume of admissions to hospitals and fewer healthcare-associated infections. This offers additional protection for the health of patients and reduced pressure on the NHS.
Good hand hygiene can also positively impact workplaces, allowing for safer staff and customers. With the average desk containing 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat and communal surfaces, such as door handles and shared equipment, seen as a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses can easily be spread across these spaces. In fact, data suggests that It would take one person just four hours to contaminate half of the equipment and employees in their proximity.
A 2016 survey found that staff trained in hand hygiene took 20% less sick leave. With time lost to illness costing the UK economy an estimated £77 billion per year in productivity, hand hygiene can therefore reduce costs and allow businesses to increase output. It could also prevent business closure due to COVID outbreaks now – and when businesses reopen as we emerge from lockdown.
By incorporating healthy hand habits across businesses and individuals, we can enjoy a better quality of life with reduced risk, less time lost to sickness and protection for healthcare settings and patients.
Find a hand hygiene solution that works for you
While it is clear that addressing hand hygiene in our daily lives carries powerful benefits for our health and business, the trick is finding the ways to embed effective practices into our lifestyles.
Most of us know to wash our hands before eating and after using the bathroom, but we may be lax when it comes to other times of the day or when sinks are not readily available.
The Orbel hand sanitiser seeks to reinforce habits of hand hygiene. Using wearable technology, individuals can hold the device on their person at all times, allowing for easy disinfection in every setting. The innovative roller-ball design also impacts neural pathways, training our brains to regularly sanitise our hands throughout the day and reduce contamination risk.
The alcohol-based gel dispensed with the device kills 99.99% of bacteria within 15 seconds of application, offering effective and fast protection against viruses. As such, it is suitable for individuals and businesses who want to keep themselves safe against coronavirus without having to impede their normal lives.