Hand hygiene for kids

Posted on 5 May 2016

Healthy habits are best learnt when you’re young. One of the most important, life-saving habits you’ll ever learn is how to wash your hands properly, keeping you safe from germs. A Mediclinic paediatrician talks us through the why, when and how of keeping your hands clean.

Every year, more than 500,000 children die from diarrhoea globally*. Clean hands are your first and best line of defence against the spread of many of these diseases – no matter how old or young you are. ‘Cleaning your hands reduces your chances of harbouring dangerous bacteria,’ says Dr Temlett Hockey, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Paarl in the Western Cape.

Here are six situations where kids (of all ages) should wash their hands:

1. AT SCHOOL

The main reason for keeping your hands clean is that it helps to prevent germs being spread. ‘Thousands of tiny microbes are embedded into the top layer of skin on your hands,’ says Dr Hockey. ‘These include germs, viruses and bacteria, which – through touching – get transferred from object to object, and then to people’s mouths.’ Think of all the surfaces your kids’ hands touch at school: it’s everything from shared pencils to shared snacks to shared toys.

2. AFTER PLAYING OUTSIDE

Getting dirt under your fingernails is a natural result of playing outside. It comes with the territory. But it also comes with potentially harmful bacteria. ‘You’ll get a lot of debris accumulating under the nails, which can also transfer bacteria from and to another person, animal or object,’ warns Dr Hockey. ‘The biggest reason for keeping your hands clean is to prevent that cross-contamination.’

3. AFTER PLAYING WITH PETS

The same applies to playing with animals. Many pets – from dogs to cats to hamsters to birds – carry germs that can be spread from animals to people. Always remember to wash your hands after leaving areas where animals live, even if you didn’t touch the animal.

4. AFTER USING THE TOILET

This rule applies to everybody (that means you too, grown-ups!)… but it’s especially important for children. ‘Children don’t always have the correct toilet hygiene, so they really do need to wash up properly afterwards,’ says Dr Hockey. Bathrooms are common areas, used by many people, and the invisible germs carried in faecal matter can end up anywhere: from the taps to the doorknob to the toilet seat. Virtually every toilet will have a hand basin right next to it, so there are no excuses.

5. BEFORE EATING FOOD
New rule: if your hands aren’t clean, you don’t get to eat. The dirt you inadvertently pick up during the day – at school, at play, from your pets or from your bathroom breaks – could contain harmful bacteria… and when you touch your food or utensils, you’ll transfer those germs directly into your mouth.

6. EVERY COUPLE OF HOURS
It’s a good rule of thumb for kids – whose lives are spent digging, touching, exploring – to clean their hand thoroughly every few hours during the day. It’ll only take 20 seconds but it will keep them safe from infection.
Follow these steps:
1. Wet your hands under warm running water.
2. Use enough soap to work up a good lather.
3. Rub your hands – palms and back, fingertips and thumbs – vigorously for at least 15 seconds.
4. Rinse thoroughly with running water.
5. Dry your hands thoroughly.

References

*https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-health/diarrhoeal-disease/

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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