Wash, and wash, and wash away

Practicing proper hand hygiene is one of the best defenses against COVID-19

We all know handwashing is important. But why? How does this everyday process help prevent disease and keep us healthy?

Washing hands is first and foremost a mechanical process by which we are able to physically remove dirt, grime and germs from our hands by the miracle of soap and water. Soap – a mixture of fat or oil, water, and an alkali, or basic salt – acts as the middleman between water and the oil molecules on your hands. This is important because germs stick to the natural (and extraneous) oils and grease on our hands. 

Although oil and water don’t mix, soap sticks to both. So during the handwashing process, the soap molecules bind to both the water and oils on your hands, effectively carrying away the germs as you wash. At the molecular level, soap also works by breaking things apart, to include many nasties of the microscopic variety. 

Frequent handwashing is important now more than ever as we attempt to quiet the spread of COVID-19. Most of us touch our eyes, nose and mouth many times throughout the day without even realizing it. Viruses and bacteria can easily enter the body through these facial “portals” if not kept at bay with proper hand hygiene.

According to the CDC website, a lack of handwashing has numerous other implications: 

  • In food preparation, germs can easily pass into foods and drinks from unwashed hands. With  some types of foods or drinks and the right circumstances, these germs can multiply and make people very ill. 
  • Unwashed hands spread germs to high-touch surfaces and objects we use everyday; places like railings, light switches, door knobs, faucets and toilet handles.
  • Bottom line, by removing germs through hand washing we can prevent a number of illnesses and infection from occurring.

Proper Handwashing Procedure: 

  • Thoroughly wash all surfaces of your hands and wrists using soap and warm water. Sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice and you’ll be good to go. Also, be sure to get under your nails, where bacteria love to grow.
  • You don’t need to scrub. This can actually damage skin leaving small cracks and cuts that offer pathogens a place to grow.
  • Don’t rush the process and be sure to completely dry your hands for about 20 seconds. Altogether, it should take about a minute to properly wash and dry your hands.

References
https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/why-handwashing.html
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/13/health/soap-coronavirus-handwashing-germs.html
https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/The_handiwork_of_good_health
https://www.livescience.com/57044-science-of-soap.html

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