Author Dr M McCabe
Using the layman’s term “germs” loosely in this blog will include all micro-organisms that can cause disease including bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi co-inhabiting with us.
When asked about the greatest health risks, most people still mention smoking, climate and environmental pollution, along with an unhealthy or wrong diet, followed by alcohol and unhealthy or contaminated foods and people.
The latest scare and panic in South Africa was the Listeriosis outbreak at the processed meat factory in Limpopo that had to be shut down, with people going into frenzy spreading hair raising stories of how this happened; while institutions presented small informative sessions to educate the public (adults) as to what Listeriosis is and how to prevent yourself from being infected. It boiled down to age old standard hygiene and food preparation practices. This is something we either should have been taught a long time ago or we just do not practice or we tend to ignore what we do not “see.”
Are people aware of where and how they can contract germs and how to prevent and treat possible germ infections. Let’s take the case of a child’s view of “clean”:
“But my hands are clean,” your four-year-old insists, after he sneezes right into them “Look at them- I don’t see any germs on them.”
How do you explain the concept of germs for kids to understand? But not only kids, many adults also do not understand the concept of hygiene or the germ theory of disease and how they make us ill. Should we just focus on the actions behind hygiene – washing your hands, catching your sneeze with your elbow, not sharing utensils or food, avoiding foul still standing water or should we delve deeper into what and how germs go to work to engrain how the world of micro-organisms affect us every day and how they can be detrimental to our health.
According to health experts, giving kids (and adults) explanations behind these basic hygiene practices can go a long way toward helping them become more germ-conscious. For example, in layman’s terms it should be explained clearly and that germs can be described as small “bugs” that live on all things, and that sometimes these bugs can make you sick. That they are so small that they can only be seen with a microscope. While they are not actually insects, they are living organisms that can grow and multiply quickly.
It is important to teach even very young children about germs. It is important to explain to kids, as they get older, that some germs are good – for example pro-biotics and some of those living in and on our bodies, and that others are bad, such as cold viruses. When they get even older, you can explain the difference between viruses and bacteria etc. to them, so they understand why antibiotics can help with some illnesses, but not others. And remember this is not only to be taught at school, it must be taught at home by the parents. Point out several examples of ways that your child can avoid becoming sick of germs, such as coughing into her sleeve or washing her hands after blowing her nose.
Personal hygiene begins and ends with our hands. And though we’re taught as youngsters to wash our hands before dinner, it’s important to remember that germs don’t care what time of day it is. Clean hands prevent sickness. So, it’s especially important to learn the basics about hand hygiene so that you, too, can become a champion hand washer!
Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water.
How germs get onto hands and make people sick
Faeces (poop) from people or animals is an important source of germs like Salmonella, E. coli ,and norovirus that cause diarrhoea, and it can spread some respiratory infections like adenovirus and hand-foot-mouth disease. These kinds of germs can get onto hands after people use the toilet or change a diaper, but also in less obvious ways, like after handling raw meats that have invisible amounts of animal poop on them.
A single gram of human faeces—which is about the weight of a paper clip—can contain one trillion germs. Germs can also get onto hands if people touch any object that has germs on it because someone coughed or sneezed on it or was touched by some other contaminated object. When these germs get onto hands and are not washed off, they can be passed from person to person and make people sick (This is why grocery stores have wipes for the trolleys!)
Washing hands prevents illnesses and spread of infections to others
Handwashing with soap removes germs from hands. This helps prevent infections because:
· Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhoea by 23-40%
· Reduces diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%
· Reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21%
· Reduces absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29-57%
Not washing hands harms children around the world
About 1.8 million children under the age of 5 die each year from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, the top two killers of young children around the
Handwashing helps battle the rise in antibiotic resistance
Preventing sickness reduces the amount of antibiotics people use and the likelihood that antibiotic resistance will develop. Handwashing can prevent about 30% of diarrhoea-related sicknesses and about 20% of respiratory infections (e.g., colds). Antibiotics often are prescribed unnecessarily for these health issues. Reducing the number of these infections by washing hands frequently helps prevent the overuse of antibiotics—the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world. Handwashing can also prevent people from getting sick with germs that are already resistant to antibiotics and that can be difficult to treat.
When should you was your hands?
Why should you wash your hands? (The science behind it)
Because hands could become re-contaminated if placed in a basin of standing water that has been contaminated through previous use, clean running water should be used. However, washing with non-potable water when necessary may still improve health. The temperature of the water does not appear to affect microbe removal; however, warmer water may cause more skin irritation and is more environmentally costly.
Turning off the faucet after wetting hands saves water, and there are few data to prove whether significant numbers of germs are transferred between hands and the faucet.
Using soap to wash hands is more effective than using water alone because the surfactants in soap lift soil and microbes from skin, and people tend to scrub hands more thoroughly when using soap, which further removes germs.
To date, studies have shown that there is no added health benefit for consumers (this does not include professionals in the healthcare setting) using soaps containing antibacterial ingredients compared with using plain soap. As a result, FDA issued a final rule in September 2016 that 19 ingredients in common “antibacterial” soaps, including triclosan, were no more effective than non-antibacterial soap and water and thus these products are no longer able to be marketed to the general public. This rule does not affect hand sanitizers, wipes, or antibacterial products used in healthcare settings.
Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between the fingers and under your nails. Why? Lathering and scrubbing hands creates friction, which helps lift dirt, grease, and microbes from skin. Microbes are present on all surfaces of the hand, often in particularly high concentration under the nails, so the entire hand should be scrubbed.
Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Hum the “Happy birthday” song from beginning to end twice. from beginning to end twice. Why? Determining the optimal length of time for handwashing is difficult because few studies about the health impacts of altering handwashing times have been done. Of those that exist, nearly all have measured reductions in overall numbers of microbes, only a small proportion of which can cause illness, and have not measured impacts on health. Solely reducing numbers of microbes on hands is not necessarily linked to better health. The optimal length of time for handwashing is also likely to depend on many factors, including the type and amount of soil on the hands and the setting of the person washing hands. For example, surgeons are likely to come into contact with disease-causing germs and risk spreading serious infections to vulnerable patients, so they may need to wash hands longer than a woman before she prepares her own lunch at home. Nonetheless, evidence suggests that washing hands for about 15-30 seconds removes more germs from hands than washing for shorter periods.
Accordingly, many countries and global organizations have adopted recommendations to wash hands for about 20 seconds (some recommend an additional 20-30 seconds for drying):
Why? Soap and friction help lift dirt, grease, and microbes—including disease-causing germs—from skin so they can then be rinsed off of hands. Rinsing the soap away also minimizes skin irritation. While some recommendations include using a paper towel to turn off the faucet after hands have been rinsed, this practice leads to increased use of water and paper towels, and there are no studies to show that it improves health.
Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
Why? Germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands; therefore, hands should be dried after washing. However, the best way to dry hands remains unclear because few studies about hand drying exist, and the results of these studies conflict. Additionally, most of these studies compare overall concentrations of microbes, not just disease-causing germs, on hands following different hand-drying methods. It has not been shown that removing microbes from hands is linked to better health. Nonetheless, studies suggest that using a clean towel or air-drying hands are best.