EVER wondered where people have been before shaking their hands? Are you ever reluctant yet forced to greet by a
handshake because you may appear rude?
Or are you the culprit that always forces a handshake even shortly after picking your nose? A fist bump, elbow tap or hug may now seem like better alternatives after going through this article.
We explore our surroundings with the help of senses: we see, hear, smell, taste and touch various items and objects daily. With the aid of these senses, we are fortunate enough to understand the world we live in. We have gotten
used to touching so many things in our environment that we don’t realise how unsafe it can be at times.
Our own bodies are covered by naturally occurring “good germs” that protect us from “bad germs” in our environment. Sometimes, our own “good germs” may cause us harm if transferred to areas where they are usually not present.
To most, if not all of us, it is a well-known fact that we should wash our hands (Source: Health 24):
– Before working with or eating food
– Before giving medicine, caring for a sick or injured person, and treating wounds
– Before putting in or taking out your contact lenses
– After touching pets or their toys, leashes, or their waste
– After working with food such as raw meat or poultry
– After going to the toilet or changing a diaper
– After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing into your hands
– After treating wounds or caring for a sick and treating wounds
– After taking out the garbage, touching household or garden chemical, or soiled shoes
We understand and associate the above activities with germs, and in the case of food, understand that what goes into our mouths should be clean. We also acknowledge that small babies and the sick are more prone to infections.
That is why we don’t allow visitors when babies are still small and encourage family members to handle babies with care, after washing their hands. It is also a common practice that children don’t visit the sick in hospital wards to protect them from contagious conditions.
It seems we are not practising hand hygiene as well as we should in South Africa though. An estimated 30% of childhood deaths are from preventable communicable diseases.
A communicable disease is caused by germs (virus or bacteria) and is usually passed on from person to person through contact or bodily secretions or fluids. These fluids include (infectivity differs with conditions or infections)
saliva, mucus, blood, urine, faeces, breast milk, semen, vaginal secretions, amniotic fluid, pus etc.
Children are still being admitted with diarrhoea and pneumonia in large numbers. According to the World Health
Organisation, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are still responsible for the majority of global deaths of
children under the age of five due to diarrhoea and pneumonia.
The Global Hygiene Council’s 2009 Global Hygiene Survey estimated that 60% of South Africans don’t wash their hands after using the toilet.
Organisms like Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter and E.coli are transmitted by faeces and if ingested, are known to cause food poisoning or diarrhoea.
South Africa still faces water shortage and poor sanitation challenges that worsen childhood infections. To make matters worse, experts have estimated that most of us don’t use soap when washing hands (66%) after using the toilet.
Researchers have projected that we can reduce up to 70% of respiratory infections if we use soaps with disinfectants.
Flu season will be upon us soon. All the coughing, sneezing, nose blowing or nose scratching will facilitate the spread of common colds and flu.
If you consider the stuffy nose or headache you may experience, it might give you a better reason to consider regular handwashing. Men are known to wash their hands less often than women after using the toilet.
It has become a culture that is difficult to address considering that men usually don’t prepare food or care for the young. We are also affected by food poisoning and diarrhoea.
Men should also remember that they can be responsible for spreading infections to friends and loved ones.
Some people are reluctant to wash hands because they have sensitive or dry skin.
Others think they are too busy for a thorough hand wash. All you need is 15 to 20 minutes to kill germs effectively.
Children should also be encourage to clean hands if they are dirty and wash them regardless of the dirt. It is important to teach them at an early age that germs are invisible and can only be eliminated by water and soap.
When looking after a sick relative or friend, always practise good hygiene and frequent handwashing. Some infections are highly contagious and immunity to them isn’t always guaranteed. Unlike chickenpox, you can get viral or bacterial diarrhoea several times.
If you have relatives with TB or HIV living with you, ask your local clinic or hospital for preventative tips. They can also order gloves and masks for you to reduce your chances of accidental contact with blood, bodily fluid splashes or TB inhalation.
If you get infected fluid or blood on your skin, wash thoroughly with soap and visit your nearest clinic for further assistance. Healthcare professionals are always reminded of hand-washing to protect themselves and limit the spread of hospital-acquired infections.
With increasing antibiotic or antimicrobial resistance, one’s safety has never been this important. Other general precautions like wearing glasses/goggles, aprons, hospital scrubs and gloves should be honoured in high contagion risk areas.
Dr Tendani Matoro is a medical doctor