Home Health Why Washing Hands Is Necessary

Why Washing Hands Is Necessary

by Ellon Labana


Text and Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio

On March 23, 1201, Manila Standard Today reported that local authorities in Salvador, Lanao del Norte declared a diarrhea outbreak in the municipality.  “As per data we received right now, there were 7 people already succumbed to the diarrhea outbreak,” an official of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council was quoted as saying.

Six days later, in Polilio Island in Quezon, at least 53 persons were affected by diarrhea.  “Local officials are considering declaring the barangay under a state of calamity so as to unlock funds needed to repair a busted water pipe that could be the cause of the contaminated water supply,” a television network reported.

In the Philippines, diarrhea is the third leading cause of child illness and the fourth leading cause of death among children under five years.  Diarrhea is a condition characterized by loose and watery stools, typically more than three bowel movements per day, associated with gassiness, bloating, and abdominal pain.

Not too many know that hand washing with soap is the single most effective and low-cost way to prevent diarrhea and acute respiratory infections (ARI). Pneumonia, a major ARI, is the number one cause of mortality among children under five years old, taking the life of an estimated 1.8 million children per year, according to the World Health Organization.

“Hand washing is easy to do and it’s one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness in all settings – from your home and workplace to child care facilities and hospitals,” points out the US Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC).  “Clean hands can stop germs from spreading from one person to another and throughout an entire community.”

These days, hand washing is one of the health protocols observed to control the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).  That in addition to wearing a face mask and face shield and physical distancing (at least one meter apart).

There are many people who think that washing hands frequently is a waste of time.  What they don’t know is that hands are host to many bacteria and viruses.  You may not believe this, but according to several scientific studies, one square centimeter of skin holds roughly 1,500 bacteria.  Don’t scream but the average work desk holds 21,000 germs in one square inch.

The website buzzle.com reiterates: “Every human being comes in contact with germs and bacteria in their daily life. These harmful microorganisms are present all around us like on the door knobs, faucets, light switches, stair railings, etc. People touch these things while doing their routine work, without thinking much about it and with the same hands touch their face, eyes, nose and sometimes eat food, too. While performing these acts, the germs and bacteria get into our body, causing several diseases.”

According to CDC, people should wash their hands in the following instances: before, during, and after preparing food; before eating food; before and after caring for someone who is sick; before and after treating a cut or wound; after using the toilet; after changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; after touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste; and after touching garbage.

If you don’t know how to wash your hands properly, here’s how: Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap. Then, rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Well, try humming the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. Then, rinse your hands well under running water.  Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them, according to the CDC.  However, if soap and water are not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 70% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.

How should you use hand sanitizer? Apply the product to the palm of one hand.  Rub your hands together. Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry.  A word of concern: Hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty.

You might be wondering who originated this hand washing practice.  According to the website of eHow, a Viennese doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis first discovered the importance of hand washing and pioneered the early phases of disease control over 100 years ago.

“In the Viennese hospital where Dr. Semmelweis practiced, maternity patients were contracting fatal illnesses. The death rate for hospitalized mothers was 5 times higher than for those women who gave birth in their homes. Interns who treated some of these women attended anatomy class and worked with cadavers before beginning their maternity rounds. There were no guidelines for hygiene during that period. Hence, the students went straight from working on cadavers to touching human patients, transferring pathogens with dirty hands.

“With the death rate continuing to climb, Dr. Semmelweis conducted an experiment that garnered little more than the ridicule from his colleagues. He made it mandatory for students to wash their hands after working with the cadavers before they could treat the women in the maternity ward. After a short period of time, the maternity death rates dropped dramatically.

“In 1843, in the United States, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes also recognized the necessity of clean hands in treating childbed fever which is caused by the Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. His views met with less than stellar reception.

When Dr. Josephine Baker created a hygiene program for child care workers in 1910, disgruntled doctors petitioned the mayor to cease this program because it was “destroying their source of income” by “making children healthy.”

Today, despite the known risks associated with improper hand washing, the spread of illness and disease continues throughout the world, and contributes to many epidemic illnesses in developing countries, including the Philippines.

Buzzle.com reminds: “One must remember that even at home we can get infected with diseases due to bacteria and so it is necessary for us to teach the proper method to our family, especially children. Children love to play with mud and sand, which host a lot of germs. By teaching your kids the significance of washing hands properly, you would be taking a very crucial step towards living a healthy life.” 

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