Hand washing is a very simple measure that is very useful for good health. Unclean hands become potential source for acquiring infections like flu, diarrhoeal diseases, staphylococcal infections, e.t.c. Gastroenteritis most commonly occurs due to poor hand hygiene. Common cold, cough, boils, fungal infections, e.t.c. are some of the diseases which can be acquired and transmitted by unclean hands. Some of the infections can be fatal. Poor hand hygiene is responsible for child mortality in developing countries. These problems can be prevented simply by keeping the hands very clean.
One should always wash hands after going to the toilette. While preparing, serving or eating food, hands should always be washed. Wash hands after handling raw food material, particularly meat. Otherwise raw food material can also become a source of infection. After coughing or sneezing, it is advisable to wash hands to remove contamination of germs on the surface of hands. Similarly, hand washing is also advisable after touching animals. One may have cats or dogs as pets and fondle them affectionately. But after that, hands should be washed well. Animals harbor germs on their body, tongue and paws, which can cause illness in human beings. One is also at risk of hands being contaminated by harmful chemicals, as while handling pesticides, chemical dyes, e.t.c.
It is said that one even needs to wash hands after contact with body part of any other human being except clean hands. But this raises a question: Hand touching by means of, hand shake”, is the most common activity involving physical contact with another human being. How can one be sure whether the hands of the other person are clean or not? Thus whether to wash hands after hand shake is debatable. Maybe for this reason, greeting one another in some cultures is by bowing of head or with folded hands, not a handshake.
It is not only important to wash hands but wash them correctly. A good hand washing involves use of soap and adequate amount of water. Ideally warm water should be used because that also serves to kill some microbes. Rub hands thoroughly with soap till the count of 10 to 20. Soap should be scrubbed very well over tips of fingers and in between fingers, under nails and back of hands, to remove all possible contamination. The scrubbing movement should begin from center of the hand to the peripheral edge. This prevents any potential movement of grime or germs from periphery to center. The 2 palms should be rubbed together, first the front and then back part. After scrubbing with soap rinse the hands adequately with water to remove any traces of soap. Then dry with a clean napkin or tissue. Washing hands correctly and thoroughly takes about 15 seconds. After that it is good to wipe them dry with a clean tissue or towel, because dampness can give rise to germs. Thus the hands become free of dust, microbes and
even harmful chemicals. Thus a simple, economical measure goes a long way in maintaining good health. Children should be taught the value and technique of good hand wash from a young age. Handkerchiefs and disposable tissues though used much are no substitutes for a hand wash regarding cleanliness and hygiene.
Washing hands is not only good to prevent diseases but also has an aesthetic value. Clean, scrubbed hands look more pretty than hands with any grime or oil visible, howsoever well manicured they may be. Similarly smelly hands do not appeal to anyone. Howsoever busy one may be, but a person should take time to wash hands and keep them clean and even dry.
Dr Rachna Pande,
specialist – internal medicine