Wash these diseases away

Posted on 1 July 2019

Make sure your hand hygiene is up to scratch to prevent the spread of germs (like bacteria and viruses) that cause illness. Christine Smedley, Infection Prevention and Control Co-ordinator: Mediclinic SA, explains.

Many infectious diseases are spread simply because people don’t clean their contaminated hands properly, or often enough. These diseases include gastrointestinal and respiratory infections, such as the common cold and influenza. Some of these infections can cause serious complications, especially for young children, the elderly, or those with a weakened immune system.

The good news is; there’s a simple way to minimise your risk of getting sick.

“One of the most important aspects of reducing the risk of transmission of micro-organisms is to perform correct hand hygiene,” says Christine Smedley, Infection Prevention and Control Co-ordinator: Mediclinic SA. “Hand hygiene is one of the most effective and easiest ways to prevent the spread of infections from one person to another.”

Here are some of the illnesses you could avoid by performing hand hygiene regularly. Hand hygiene can be performed either by washing hands with soap and water or by using an alcohol based handrub with at least 70% alcohol content.

Viral gastroenteritis. This is the most common cause of diarrhoea and vomiting and can spread quickly within large groups of people in close quarters (such as households, schools, offices, and hotels) if adequate hand hygiene is not performed, particularly after using the bathroom. “You can contract gastroenteritis by eating or drinking contaminated food or drinks – or simply touching an object or surface that has been contaminated with the virus and then touching your mouth,” Smedley explains. The best way to stop gastrointestinal viruses from spreading is to wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and before preparing food.

Hepatitis A is a viral disease of the liver and can cause symptoms including fatigue, fever, nausea and diarrhoea and jaundice (yellow discolouration of the eyes and skin). It can be spread via food which has been prepared by someone who is carrying the virus without having washed hands after using the bathroom or by contaminated water.

Respiratory illnesses such as those caused by the common cold viruses, seasonal influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) are spread via droplets when someone who has the illness coughs or sneezes, dispersing droplets into the air which is inhaled. “Transmission of viruses may also occur when respiratory secretions that fall onto surfaces are transmitted by hands to mucous membranes (by rubbing your eyes or nose). Other infections such as meningitis can also be spread through droplet transmission,” Smedley cautions. Performing hand hygiene reduces the risk. 

Patients in hospital are more susceptible to infections if they are already compromised by an illness or comorbidities. In addition, invasive interventions (such as surgery or insertion of catheters) may be required as part of their treatment.

“Hand hygiene is one of the crucial practices in a hospital to limit the transmission of micro-organisms between patients which may lead to healthcare-associated infections,” Smedley says. “It is important in the healthcare environment that staff, patients themselves, as well as family and visitors perform hand hygiene regularly, especially after using the bathroom, handling used tissues and before eating. Visitors and patients should not handle any invasive devices (such as urinary catheters, intravenous lines) or touch wounds.”

 

Are you washing your hands effectively?

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water. Use warm or cold water. “Hot water may contribute to dermatitis, which prevents effective hand hygiene being performed,” Smedley warns.
  2. Apply soap and lather by rubbing your hands together. “Be sure to rub the backs of your hands, between fingers your and palms, as well as interlocking your fingers to rub your nails,” she says.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water, and then dry them using a clean towel or disposable paper towel.

 

When to wash your hands

You should wash your hands thoroughly:

  • After using the toilet or changing nappies
  • Before, during and after preparing food
  • Between handling raw and cooked or ready-to-eat food
  • Before eating
  • After using a tissue or handkerchief
  • Before and after attending to sick children or other family members.
  • After smoking
  • After handling rubbish or working in the garden
  • After handling animals
  • Before doing wound dressings after injury or surgery
Published in Healthy Life

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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