How important is washing your hands properly?

How important is washing your hands properly?

What are the dangers of not washing hands?

Bugs (microbes) such as bacteria and viruses can easily be spread by touch. They may be picked up from contaminated surfaces, objects or people, then passed on to others. Effective hand decontamination – either by washing with soap and wateror with an alcohol-based handrub – is recognised as crucial in the reducing avoidable infection.

Here are a few examples


Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning and gastro-enteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestine). It is generally found in the gut of animals such as turkeys, chickens, wild birds, cattle and pets.

It is spread by eating or drinking contaminated food, water or unpasteurised milk. Pets such as cats and dogs may be a source of the bacteria in your home. Person to person spread occurs when your personal hygiene is poor.


Salmonella food poisoning is the result of touching or eating contaminated foods. Its symptoms include diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and fever. Many foods that people prepare in their home, especially meats and poultry, have warning labels about safe handling on the packaging for this reason.


MRSA stands for Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Staphylococcus aureus (SA) is a common type of bacteria that lives harmlessly in the nose or on the skin of around 25-30% of people. Most people do not even realise they are carrying the germ.

Minor SA infections can be treated with antibiotics. In the past, even serious SA infections could be successfully treated with antibiotics. However, some types of SA have developed into ‘super-strains’, which have become resistant to antibiotics and so are classified as MRSA.

MRSA may require a lengthy stay in hospital. In some cases, it can lead to serious health problems such as blood poisoning and infections of the lungs, bones or the heart valve. A small number of people die from the effects of MRSA.


Flu is much more serious than you may think. Flu is a virus that can cause chills, fever and a sore throat and, if you have heart or lung problems or are 65 or over, it will hit you hardest.

The virus can also cause headaches, coughing, sneezing and extreme tiredness. In the most serious cases it can cause pneumonia, which can result in death. Flu is often spread through the air by coughs and sneezes or by touching contaminated surfaces.


Impetigo is a very contagious infection of the skin, common in children. Redness develops into small blisters that gradually crust and erode. It is highly contagious and can be spread from person to person and to other parts of the body simply by touching it.

Which is best paper towels, hand dryer or air dry?

Although hand-dryers are more environmentally friendly than paper towels researchers at Bradford University found that bacteria levels increased when people rubbed their hands together while using them. They concluded that paper towels were the most effective means of reducing the risk of infection after washing.

Bacteria living within the skin is brought to the surface when wet hands are rubbed together under a dryer. The bacteria can then be transferred to other surfaces. When hands are washed the number of bacteria on the surface of the skin decreases, but they are not necessarily eliminated. If the hands are still damp then these bacteria are more readily transferred to other surfaces.

What hygiene procedures should visitors to hospitals follow?

When visiting someone in hospital, always clean your hands using soap and water or alcohol handrubs. Do this when you enter or leave a patient’s room or other areas of the hospital. Effective hand decontamination relies on an effective technique, which includes:

- wetting hands with warm water

- applying an adequate amount of (preferably liquid) soap

- rubbing this thoroughly onto all hand surfaces (for at least 10 to 15 seconds)

- rinsing thoroughly

- drying thoroughly, preferably with disposable paper towel

- taps should be then turned off with the paper towel to avoid recontaminating the hands

Alcohol handrub can only be used if hands are free from soling. The handrub needs to be thoroughly rubbed into all hand surfaces until hands are completely dry.

By Telegraph Reporter,

The Telegraph, Friday 6 March 2015

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