Hand washing is the most effective way of preventing infections and illnesses from spreading. It prevents the spread of germs from urine and fecal contamination and also those spread via indirect contact with respiratory droplets.
Among the many common infections that can be prevented with proper hand washing techniques include:
- Cold and flu are respiratory illnesses spread via droplets breathed, sneezed or coughed into the air by someone with the disease. Those droplets land on nearby objects and touching these infected objects transmits germs to your hands; touching your nose or mouth with your unwashed hand infects you with the virus or bacteria.
- Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by viruses such as Noroviruses and Rotaviruses. The common symptoms of gastroenteritis include nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps and watery diarrhoea.These viruses are very contagious and spread quickly. It spreads when hands are not washed after having a bowel movement, changing a diaper or handling vomitus, when contaminated food or beverages are consumed, and when hands that have contacted the virus from surfaces or care of an ill person are then put in the mouth.
- Hepatitis A is a highly contagious viral infection of the liver. Hepatitis A symptoms include fatigue, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), dark urine, clay-colored stool, joint pain, nausea and vomiting, fever, loss of appetite and abdominal pain.Hepatitis A is transmitted by either person-to-person contact or consumption of contaminated food or water.
- Shigellosis is a bacterial infection with symptoms that include watery diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and fever. It may also progress to dysentery which manifests as passage of mucus, blood and pus in stool. Shigellosis spreads from one person to another by ingesting food contaminated by infected people who do not use adequate hand washing technique with soap and water after using the bathroom.
- Giardiasis is a parasitic illness of the intestine with symptoms such as gas, cramping and diarrhoea. Giardiasis spreads easily by drinking infected water from untreated sources or by hand-to-faecal contact.
- Hand-foot-mouth disease is a group of disease caused by the coxsackie virus and other enteroviruses. The symptoms include blister-like bumps in the mouth, on the palms of the hands and sole of the feet. The virus spreads by ingesting food or drink contaminated with fecal content
- Food poisoning is caused by several bacteria including Salmonella, Shigella, Staphylococcus aureus, Campylobacter and E. coli 0157:H7. Hand contamination with any of these bacteria can cause cross-contamination of your food.
- Body fluid illnesses are spread through blood, reproductive fluids, urine and even pus from infections like herpes. Failing to wash your hands can spread germs in these fluid from an infected person to other surfaces where they can be picked up by healthy individuals later. Examples include typhoid, Cytomegalovirus and Epstein-barr virus.
- Worm infestation is another common illness resulting from not watching your hands regularly. Faeces of humans and animals are usually filled with intestinal worms at various stages of development. The eggs of some of these worms are specially equipped to survive for a long time in the soil, other stages survive for only a short time. If you have contact with infected soil or faeces (even that of babies) and fail to watch your hands before touching food or drink, you may be inadvertently ingesting eggs of worms which then grows into the adult form of the worms. Worm infestation is a source of chronic illness and malnutrition, and may be fatal in children.
- Superficial eye and skin infections such as bacterial conjunctivitis, chicken pox, measles, rashes, eczema etc have been shown to be transmissible by hand contact.
Serious consequences can result when unclean hands are not washed. It is necessary to wash hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose, changing a diaper, before and after caring for someone who is ill, before eating or preparing food, and after cleaning up animal waste and touching garbage.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggest washing with soaps and clean running water for 20 seconds to rid the hands of germs. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be a sufficient alternative.
Now that you know, learn how to wash your hands properly, wash your hands frequently to stay healthy. YOUR HEALTH IS IN YOUR HANDS!