The importance of good hand hygiene

by Jennifer Bowden / 17 January, 2013
Don’t underestimate the good that washing your hands with soap and water can do.
The importance of good hand hygiene
Photo/Thinkstock


Hand-washing is fun when you’re two, judging by the shouts of glee each time my toddler heads to the bathroom for a spot of soap and water. Still, I know the day will come when my request to wash hands will not elicit a gleeful response. After all, only 40% of doctors can be bothered regularly washing their hands, according to a 2010 study, even though health professionals know hand-washing is the most effective way to stop the spread of infectious diseases.

Good hand hygiene is also critical for food safety; unwashed hands can transfer bacteria, viruses and parasites – some of them found in human faeces – onto food and into our mouths, leading to food-borne illnesses. Food safety is particularly important in summer, as the warmer weather makes it easier for bacteria to thrive and multiply in our environment.

Thorough hand-washing is the best way to stop the spread of food-borne illness, according to the Ministry for Primary Industries. This is great news if you’re a diligent hand-washer. Unfortunately, we live in a community where a significant number of people fail to follow basic hygiene guidelines, which places the rest of us, who share their environment, at increased risk of illness.

A 2008 survey assessing the hygiene habits of 1200 people in toilets at shopping malls in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch found 13% of shoppers made no attempt to wash their hands after using the toilet. So perhaps a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitiser is a good idea, particularly when visiting public places and dining out.

In 2000, researchers reported in the Journal of Food Protection that hand-washing with mild soap and water for 20 seconds was more effective at removing bacteria likely to cause food-borne illness than a 70% alcohol- based hand sanitiser. The study was funded by Procter & Gamble, which sells both hand sanitisers and soap.

In the fight against human noroviruses – the leading cause of non-bacterial gastroenteritis – the news is even less positive. A 2010 study, in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, found alcohol-based hand-rubs were relatively ineffective at destroying the virus on human hands. And unsurprisingly, a subsequent study in the American Journal of Infection Control found the use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers by staff in long-term care facilities was actually associated with an increased risk of a norovirus outbreak in the facility.

Likewise, soap and water were more effective than alcohol-based hand-rubs at removing Clostridium difficile from human hands. This bacterium can cause diarrhoea or inflammation of the bowel; infection typically occurs in hospitalised patients who have recently taken a course of antibiotics.

Soap and water were also more effective than alcohol-based hand-rubs at removing human influenza A virus (H1N1) from the hands of 20 brave volunteers, and at washing away human rhinovirus – the cause of many common colds – reports a 2012 study in the Journal of Medical Virology.

The best option, then, is to wash hands with soap and clean water if it’s available. Alternatively, use soap and any available water (whether fresh or not). If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser, but choose one containing at least 60% alcohol. Hand-washing with soap and water may be a simple act, but it significantly reduces our risk of food-borne illnesses and much more.

In a 2012 issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal, the Auckland District Health Board reported a marked reduction in Staphylococcus aureus infections among patients after it implemented the Hand Hygiene New Zealand programme in 2009 and increased healthcare workers’ compliance with hand-hygiene regulations from 35% to 60%. Now that’s good news.

WHEN SHOULD YOU WASH YOUR HANDS?



  • Before preparing food or eating.

  • Before or after caring for someone who is sick.

  • After preparing food.

  • After blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, touching an animal or handling animal waste.

  • After using the toilet, changing nappies or cleaning a child who has used the toilet.

  • After handling pet food or rubbish.


Email: nutrition@listener.co.nz, or write to “Nutrition”, c/o Listener, PO Box 90783, Victoria St West, Auckland 1142.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Jacinda Ardern pregnant: Politicians past and present lend their support
86105 2018-01-19 15:45:44Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern pregnant: Politicians past and pres…

by RNZ

Politicians from at home and abroad are reaching out to offer congratulations to the Prime Minister mum-to-be.

Read more
Jacinda Ardern is going to be a Prime Minister AND a mum
86091 2018-01-19 12:36:44Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern is going to be a Prime Minister AND…

by Katie Parker

New Zealand’s newly minted PM and bizarrely cool and normal lady Jacinda Ardern has announced that she and partner Clarke Gayford are expecting a baby

Read more
Jacinda Ardern announces pregnancy
86074 2018-01-19 11:11:36Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern announces pregnancy

by RNZ

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that she is pregnant, with the baby due in June.

Read more
What the media silly season taught us
85933 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Politics

What the media silly season taught us

by Graham Adams

To the eternal gratitude of media chiefs, each holiday period seems to throw up at least one minor scandal that runs in the absence of anything newsy.

Read more
Richard Prebble: Jacinda Ardern will face the tyranny of events
86009 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Politics

Richard Prebble: Jacinda Ardern will face the tyra…

by Richard Prebble

I predicted Bill English would lose the election and the winner would be Winston Peters. But no forecaster, including the PM, predicted her pregnancy.

Read more
Aokigahara: More than just the ‘suicide forest’
85966 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z World

Aokigahara: More than just the ‘suicide forest’

by Justin Bennett

It's known as a 'suicide forest', but Justin Bennett found Aokigahara's quiet beauty outweighed its infamous reputation.

Read more
Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance of Len Lye
85816 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Arts

Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance …

by Sally Blundell

New essays on New Zealand-born US artist Len Lye elevate him to the status of Australasia’s most notable 20th-century artist.

Read more
Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infertile couples
86046 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Health

Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infe…

by Nicky Pellegrino

For about a third of infertility cases in New Zealand, there is no obvious reason why seemingly fertile couples struggle to conceive.

Read more