As COVID-19 vaccines come into sight, experts stress on continued handwashing

Just as vaccine manufacturers announce positive updates that could help bring the Covid-19 pandemic to a culmination, experts continue to stress the need for handwashing to safeguard against the spread of other potential infections and diseases. December 1-7 is National Handwashing Awareness Week.

“Handwashing practices have always been an effective way to prevent infectious diseases, especially new ones like the one caused by coronavirus. Studies have found that washing one’s hands with soap can prevent 1 in 3 people from getting diarrhea, and 1 in 5 people from respiratory illness — both the diseases are a major reason for child mortality in India.

“Handwashing before cooking and eating, after using a toilet, and after handling garbage or waste of any kind is a must. We must try to foster and support a culture of handwashing in society and raise awareness about its benefits. Handwashing is equally important in hospital settings where it can reduce the incidence of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) to a great extent,” Krishnan Kasturirangan, Operations leader at StepOne, told IANSlife.

Adding more on handwashing in the Indian context, Dr Ramani Ranjan, Consultant – Pediatrics & Neonatology, Motherhood Hospital, Noida says: “In India, we have the culture of eating food with hands, which makes it more important to keep our hands clean. Keeping nails short, trimming them regularly and washing hands for at least 20-30 seconds, will make the chance of acquiring any infection/diseases less likely and will prevent most microbes. According to Global Health Observatory (GHO) data, in 2018, 5.3 million children died around the world before seeing their fifth birthday. Washing hands with soap and water has been proven to be one of the most powerful shields for humanity against the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these infections could have been prevented through the simple act of handwashing with soap water as regular hand washing also prevents fomite born respiratory infections by 16 percent. Through a rigorous handwashing awareness program, our world can save millions of lives of children who are dying of infection because of the poor hand washing practices.”

There are a few situations where washing hands are a must to keep infections at bay. Always wash hands after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; after being in a public place; and before and after caring for a sick person to prevent COVID, suggests Dr. Pratibha Walde, Consultant – Internal Medicine, Columbia Asia Hospital, Pune.

She adds: “These are in addition to existing norms of handwashing after using the toilet or latrine or changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet; after touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste and touching garbage, before, during, and after preparing food, and before eating food. In areas where the quality of water is poor, washing hands with soap and water may need to be followed up by antiseptic hand rubs. Avoid sharing towels after washing hands; use individual towels, paper towels or hand dryers.”

“Two most important aspects of handwashing are: rubbing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and drying hands completely with disposable paper towels or hand dryers as the friction is critical to kill the germs. It helps to save us from infectious bacteria and viruses that we may carry in our hands and which can enter our body through the mouth, eyes or nose. Washing hands is particularly helpful for people who do not have a fully-developed immunity such as children and those with low immunity such as patients of autoimmune diseases or cancer, elderly people, or pregnant women. Hand washing helps in preventing severe gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases. Washing hands must be inculcated as a healthy habit, just like brushing teeth in the morning,” Dr Harpreet Kaur, HOD of Transfusion Medicine (Blood Bank) & Consultant Pathology, Aakash Healthcare, New Delhi, concluded.

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