Hundreds of millions of patients around the world die or are considerably affected by diseases such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus and other severe infections.
Experts agree that simple hand washing and cleanliness can significantly lessen the global disease burden and promote good health.
Hand washing is a routine activity that everyone needs to implement.
Embedding hand hygiene promotional activities as a national priority is key, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Specific efforts have been made to promote hand hygiene within healthcare and beyond.
WHO created a "Save lives: Clean your hands" campaign, set for May 5, 2013. This global movement is designed to improve hand hygiene education, awareness and provide sustainable solutions to healthcare professionals to help reduce the burden of hygiene-related diseases.
The programme looks to ensure that infection control is acknowledged universally as an essential component. This is geared towards patient safety that supports the reduction of healthcare-associated infections and their potential life-threatening consequences.
"Our efforts and those of healthcare workers in these facilities must be directed towards sustaining improvements and thereby reducing healthcare-associated infections and patient suffering," says Prof. Didier Pittet, the director of Infection Control Programme, University of Geneva Hospitals and Faculty of Medicine.
Healthcare starts with homecare
A recent study published in the American Journal of Infection Control demonstrated that hand washing could prevent disease transmission at home as well. Previous studies mainly focused on the importance of hand washing and workers in the food and health industries.
Researchers tested toilets in homes where at least one person had been diagnosed with salmonella, a common cause of food poisoning. They found that toilets could remain contaminated for up to three weeks with salmonella. This means that the infection could be transmitted long-term without proper toilet cleaning and hand hygiene techniques.
A similar study demonstrated how a virus could be transmitted through touching a contaminated door handle and shaking hands with others. Test results confirmed that the virus could be spread up to six additional people.
The authors commented that people should be aware of the surfaces that are touched by a large number of people such as faucets, toilet flush handles and doorknobs. Society cannot avoid these items, which demonstrates the importance of something that we can control -hand washing.
Other common forms of germ transmission include coughing and sneezing. The direct spray into the air or one's hands can greatly facilitate the spread of bacteria and viruses. Also be aware of other activities such as changing diapers, touching trash cans and any surface that may have come in contact with waste or food products.
Tips to prevent infection
Clean your hands regularly.
Wash your hands with soap and water regularly.
Dry them thoroughly.
Use an alcohol-based hand rub if you do not have immediate access to soap and water.
How to wash your hands
Wet the hands with warm or cold water and then apply any type of soap. Antibacterial soap is not needed as any soap facilitates cleanliness. Create lather by rubbing one's hands together and scrub the back of the hands, wrists, between fingers and under/around every nail bed.
The most common hand washing mistake is not washing long enough. Keep scrubbing all the areas of the hands and wrists for a minimum of 40 to 60 seconds.
Creating a routine is the most effective way of ensuring that all areas are properly cleaned. A fun way of cleaning effectively is thinking of a song while washing the hands. This improves the overall of washing time.
It is important to rinse off any additional soap and dry the hands with a paper towel, a clean hand towel or air drier. It is also recommended to turn off the faucet with the towel to prevent recontamination of one's hands.
Alcohol wipes or hand sanitisers are effective if soap and water are not available. Sanitisers contain alcohol, so one would not need a hand towel.
Children are at greatest risk
It is important to continually tell children that washing their hands before eating, after using the bathroom, or when they come from playing can reduce minor and serious illnesses.
Hand washing is the best way to prevent germs from spreading to other people. It is also the first line of defence against the spread of many other common illnesses such as a cold and flu, or more serious illnesses such as meningitis, Hepatitis A and most types of infectious diarrhoea.
Our daily personal choices will impact our health.
Create a routine of washing your hands before, during and after activities that are known to infest them. Minimise possible exposures and transmissions by understanding the most common culprits of the problem.
You can also educate friends, family members and loved ones on how to reduce the risk of transmission.
Healthcare professionals can go to http://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/registration_update/en/index.html if you would like to participate in the May 5, 2013 event.