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We all know how to wash our hands...don't we?
It might seem like a pretty obvious task but actually, most of us are probably not doing it when we should be or as well as we should!
Why do we need to wash our hands?
With the recent spread of the coronavirus, experts are warning that now – more than ever – we need to be vigilant about washing our hands. This strain of the coronavirus, named Covid-19, is believed to be spread via droplets in the air. So the virus infects when you touch a surface where the droplets have landed, and passes on when you touch another surface.
However, coronavirus is just the latest threat to public health that we need to be worried about. In what seem like shocking statistics, a 2018 study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 97 per cent of us aren’t washing our hands properly, and even if we do, many people don’t wash them for long enough or don’t use a clean towel to dry them afterwards, thus defeating the point of getting them clean.
Out of the 383 people studied in test kitchens in North Carolina, 48 per cent of them spread bacteria from raw meat to spice containers because of poor hand hygiene, while 11 per cent of the time, they also spread bacteria to refrigerator handles.
Carmen Rottenberg, food safety spokeswoman at the US Department of Agriculture said, “As a mother of three young children, I am very familiar with the mad dash families go through to put dinner on the table. You can’t see, smell or feel bacteria. By simply washing your hands properly, you can protect your family and prevent that bacteria from contaminating your food and key areas in your kitchen.”
We should also all be washing our hands after using public transport, after using the toilet, after touching animals and after changing a nappy.
Can germs help boost your immune system?
There is other scientific research that seems to suggest that those non-washers may actually be on to something. Official NHS guidelines may recommend hand washing for approximately 20 seconds but you might not need to wash your hands as frequently as you think, claim some doctors.
A study by Doctor Justin Sonnenburg and his wife Doctor Erica Sonnenburg at the Stanford School of Medicine in America has shown that over-cleaning eliminates good healthy bacteria from our guts.
Indeed, over-washing your hands can be almost as dangerous as not washing them at all and lead to health problems, as these bacteria are necessary for our general wellbeing and in order to produce healthy antibodies. The bacteria living in our gut perform necessary functions, Doctor Sonnenburg says, “Fending off pathogens, training our immune systems and the development of our tissues”.
Humans pick up these good-gut bacteria from external colonies, one of the most important of which is during birth and infancy when we collect them from our families whilst we are growing.
Over centuries, the range of these bacteria in the human population has dropped due to use of antibiotics, less-frequent breastfeeding and caesarean sections.
In order to reverse the decline of these bacteria, Doctor Sonnenburgh says we must tweak our culture to not always wash our hands after working in the garden or children getting dirty.
If all that germ-chat has left you feeling a little grimy then we’ve made a quick video to show you the right way to wash your hands, using guidelines from the NHS to make sure we’ve included all the important bits!
How to wash your hands
- Wet your hands with water, warm or cold
- Apply enough soap all over your hands and wrists
- Rub your hands palm to palm, then rub the back of each hand – and interlace the fingers each time to get in-between them
- Interlock your fingers and rub the back of your fingers
- Rub each thumb, then rub the tips of your fingers into your palms in circular motions
- Focus on your wrist by rubbing with the opposite hand
- You should wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice (around 20 seconds).
- Rinse your hands with water, warm or cold
- Dry your hands thoroughly, ideally with a single-use towel
- Use your elbow or the single-use towel to turn off the taps if you can