05 May World Hand Hygiene Day – Preventing the spread of illness is in your hands
5 May is dedicated to World Hand Hygiene Day. While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made everyone much more aware of the importance of hand hygiene, we want to focus a bit on how hand hygiene ties into dermatology and skin care in general.
Hand hygiene is essential to prevent the spread of infections. Many viral, bacterial and other types of infectious diseases are invisible to the naked eye and are easily spread after touching a contaminated surface. It only takes touching of an unclean surface with your fingers once and then bringing your fingers to your mouth, nose or eyes as a means for the infectious micro–organisms to enter your body.
As dermatologists we know that there are many infectious diseases that manifest as skin rashes. These, such as the herpes simples virus can easily be transmitted simply by touch.
Take extra care with hand hygiene during the treatment of skin diseases such as eczema that depend on the use of emollients, such as moisturisers or soap substitutes.
‘Pot care’ in dermatology means never putting your fingers directly into an emollient container, as this will contaminate the contents and become a breeding ground for bacteria and other micro–organisms. Rather use a clean spoon or spatula to transfer some of the emollient to your hands before applying the emollient onto your body (or onto your child’s body). An alternative is to use a pump dispenser. Do not to share your emollients with other people. For parents, it is important to wash your hands before and after applying creams or other topical preparations to your child’s body.
Impetigo is a common childhood bacterial skin infection which can be spread by touch and is often treated with topical antibiotics. Hand hygiene is again essential to prevent its spread among parents and other family members.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the following regarding hand hygiene:
- When using an alcohol-based hand rub, apply a palmfull of product and cover all surfaces of the hands. Rub your hands until dry.
- When washing hands with soap and water, wet hands with water and apply the amount of product necessary to cover all surfaces.
- Rinse hands with water and dry thoroughly.
- Use clean, running water whenever possible.
- Avoid using hot water. Frequent exposure to hot water may increase the risk of dermatitis.
- Use a towel to turn off the tap. This eliminates re-contamination of hands.
- Make sure towels are not used multiple times or by multiple people.
- Always choose soap and water when hands are visibly dirty.
Going forward we should be mindful that hand hygiene is a simple, effective measure that can be applied to our daily lives. Also see our blog post on frequent hand washing and avoiding hand eczema.