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Hand Hygiene

Introduction

Hand hygiene is one of the most important steps to protect yourself and others from illnesses caused by germs (such as bacteria and viruses) that enter our bodies through our eyes, nose or mouth.

Why wash your hands?

Potentially harmful germs are everywhere. If you get these germs on your hands and then touch your face, they can enter your body through your eyes, nose or mouth and could make you ill.

Properly cleaning your hands before you touch your face, especially before you eat, can prevent you from catching these infections and/or passing them to other people.

How do we get germs on our hands?

When a person coughs, sneezes or vomits they can release germs into the air that land both on them, and on the surfaces around them, for example tables, shop counters, door handles, telephones etc. If this person also touches their eyes, nose or mouth, germs will transfer onto their hands and if they don’t then wash their hands, the germs will be transferred onto surfaces that they touch.

We get germs on our hands either from touching surfaces that have germs on, or touching other people who have these germs on their skin/clothing or on their personal items.

Which infections can you catch from unclean hands?

Vomiting and Diarrhoeal illnesses

Human and animal faeces (poo) is an important source of germs which can be easily transferred onto food and drinks if unclean hands are not washed before the cooking or preparation process.

If food or drinks contaminated with germs are ingested, they can cause diarrhoeal illnesses such as norovirus, Salmonella and E.Coli.

Coughs, Colds and flu

Germs which cause respiratory diseases such as flu, the common cold, or COVID-19 can easily be transmitted from person to person by touching commonly used surfaces which have become contaminated from an infected person coughing or sneezing nearby.

When should I wash my hands?

Hand washing should be carried out when:

  • your hands are visibly dirty
    and
  • it should be performed (even if not visibly dirty) before:
    • preparing food
    • eating food and drinking
    • touching your eyes, nose or mouth
    • treating a cut or a wound
    • caring for someone who is unwell

Hand washing should also be carried out after:

  • using the toilet; changing a nappy or cleaning up bodily fluids
  • spending time in public areas where you may have touched frequently used items such as door handles, shopping baskets, hand rails or using public transport
  • blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing
  • adjusting or removing a face covering
  • touching food or raw meat
  • touching household waste/rubbish
  • touching an animal, pet food or treats or animal waste
  • caring for an unwell person including handling their personal items

How to wash your hands

Using soap and water is the most effective way to clean your hands.

Lather the soap in your hands with clean running water (it does not have to be warm) and wash your hands as shown in these videos:

Following the correct handwashing process causes friction which helps to lift dirt, grease and microbes (germs) from your skin and rinses them away.

  • It is important not to neglect areas under the nails where a high concentrations of germs can gather.

The entire process of thoroughly washing and drying your hands should take 40-60 seconds.

Alcohol based hand sanitiser

Alcohol based hand sanitiser (or hand rub) is an alcohol-containing preparation (liquid, gel or foam) designed for application to the hands to kill germs. Hand sanitisers containing an alcohol concentration between 60%-95% are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol based hand sanitisers.

  • In the absence of soap and clean running water, an alcohol-based hand sanitiser can be used effectively on hands which are not visibly dirty.

Alcohol based hand sanitisers do not work well against all types of germs such as norovirus or Cryptosporidium and they may not remove harmful chemicals from your hands.

  • If your hands have touched harmful chemicals, they should be washed carefully in soap and water as soon as possible.

How to apply hand sanitiser

Apply hand sanitiser in this order:

  1. Apply a palmful of the product into a cupped hand, covering all surfaces of your hands.
  2. Rub your hands together, palm to palm.
  3. Rub your right palm over the back of your left hand with interlaced fingers; and then repeat with the other hand.
  4. Rub your hands palm to palm, with interlaced fingers.
  5. Rub the backs of your fingers on the opposite palm, interlocking the fingers.
  6. Clasp your right palm and fingers around your left thumb and rub rotationally around the thumb; repeat with the opposite hand.
  7. Rub fingertips of your right hand backwards and forwards over your left palm; repeat with the other hand.
  8. Once your hands feel dry, they are safe. 

The duration of the entire process of applying hand sanitiser should take 20-30 seconds.

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