Safety in your hands

Published October 9, 2021
Illustration by Ziauddin
Illustration by Ziauddin

How often are you told by your mother, or any other elder in the house, to wash your hands before you start eating.

My mother’s voice still echoes in my head, “Food is ready; wash your hands and come to the table.”

That’s how she would call us for meals. And it was not only for meals that we had to wash our hands. She would make us wash up after we went to the bathroom, after playing or coming back from outside/school, sneezing, coughing or blowing the nose, touching garbage or an animal, and sometimes if she considered them dirty even when we thought they were not.

She would wash her hands frequently, especially before handling food, after any of the above-mentioned acts or whenever she was done with any household task.

Like all children, we would make faces when told to wash our hands, especially when we did not see any dirt on them. Now as an adult, I find myself reminding others to wash their hands every so often, not forgetting to do so myself as many times as possible.

Ever wonder why washing your hands is so important?

It is so because it is the best and most effective way to avoid getting sick and to stop the spread of germs and making others sick. Even when we don’t realise it, we have germs on our hands.

So how do these germs get on our hands? Simple. Throughout the day we touch many things which are not clean (though we think they are), such as furniture, pets, toys, money, etc. The dirt and germs from the surface of these things accumulate on our hands and clothes.

When we don’t wash our hands with soap and clean water, the germs on our hands enter our body while we eat, prepare food, or when we touch our eyes, nose and mouth. This can make us fall sick. And through our hands these germs are also transferred to other people when we shake hands or give them something, or we transfer the germs through indirect contact when we touch doorknobs, books, elevator buttons, TV remote, etc., and other people touch these infected objects.

Did you know that the simple practice of handwashing can help you avoid catching diseases such as cold, flu and diarrhoea? How bad it feels when you have the cold and you cannot eat ice cream or go to your friend’s birthday party or a cousin’s wedding you were looking forward to. Or your mum does not allow you to eat pizza or burger because you have an upset tummy or diarrhoea.

If mild, these diseases are cured in a couple of days, but they can sometimes turn serious and can even result in death. However, you should know that the habit of handwashing is the simplest and the most inexpensive way to reduce the number of children who get sick with diseases such as diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections like pneumonia, which kill about 3.5 million children under the age of five annually.

Keeping hands clean can prevent one out of three cases of diarrhoea and one in five respiratory infections, such as cold or flu, cutting deaths from diarrhoea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter.

So you see making it a habit to wash hands with soap before eating, after using the toilet, handling money or on returning from outside, can save more lives than one would imagine.

As the world realised the importance of handwashing, in order to spread the message, the Global Handwashing Partnership (an international coalition that brings together expertise, ideas, experience and resources of the public and private sectors) initiated the Global Handwashing Day in 2008, which was also the International Year of Sanitation.

The Global Handwashing Day is observed every year on October 15. Since 2008, this day is used to spread awareness about the value of handwashing, which is a simple practice, but can really make all the difference and save lives.

Those who have the habit of washing their hands with soap and water are now benefiting, as since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, health experts have recommended that washing our hands for 20 seconds with soap and water and using hand sanitiser after touching anything is the best defence against Covid-19, of course along with wearing a mask. For me, at least, handwashing has become second nature.

Now that you have learnt that washing your hands frequently can keep you healthy and prevent the spread of various diseases from one person to the other, you should make it a habit so as to prevent the spread of germs.

You may have some people around you who are not aware of the importance of handwashing, so please gently tell them what is good for them without sounding pompous or being rude. If you learn that they do not have access to clean water or soap, try to help them out as it is only through improved hand hygiene at the community level that we can all stay healthy.

Now just a reminder: it is best to clean your hands before and after touching your eyes, nose or mouth, touching your mask, using the toilet, entering and leaving a public place and touching an item or surface that is frequently touched by other people, such as door handles, tables, shopping carts, elevator buttons, etc.

Debunking common hand washing myths

Hand sanitisers can replace washing your hands with soap and water – False

Washing hands with soap and water is the best and most effective way to reduce the number of microbes and germs on hands.

Although alcohol-based (at least 60 percent) hand sanitisers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some situations, they are not as effective as soap and water when it comes to removing and inactivating dangerous gastrointestinal illness-causing germs such as Cryptosporidium, norovirus and Clostridium difficile.

The hotter the water you use for handwashing, the better – False

Studies show that water temperature does not affect microbe removal. Hot water can also dry out skin, which leaves your skin more susceptible to germs and can make handwashing painful. It is best to wash your hands with the temperature that you find comfortable.

You don’t have to dry your hands after washing them – False Studies show that germs can be more easily transferred to and from wet hands, which is why drying hands is essential to staving off bacteria after handwashing.

Hand dryers are more hygienic than paper towels – False

In studies conducted by the Mayo Clinic (Minn.) and University of Westminster (London), researchers found that paper towels can help remove bacteria, unlike air dryers which can increase bacteria counts. Because air dryers have been shown to spread bacteria between three and six feet from the device, paper towels are also far less likely to contaminate other restroom users.


Clean your hands the right way

Follow these five steps every time you wash your hands:

• Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.

• Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.

• Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.

• Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.

• Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

— Source:

Published in Dawn, Young World, October 9th, 2021



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