|"Mother, Why Do We Need To Wash Our Hands?"
By Zulkiple Ibrahim
This is the first from a series of two features on hand hygiene.
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 5 (Bernama) -- Recently, when dining at a food court here, this writer heard a small boy enquiring from his mother on why he should wash his hands before eating.
"We have to wash our hands in order to get rid of the germs. If we happened to touch food with hands contaminated by germs and we later consume the food, then we can get sick afterwards," answered the mother being aware of the possible infections against her small child and also the danger posed by the H1N1 influenza, also known as the A influenza that is still around and in the pandemic state across the globe since April last year.
The health authorities in Malaysia had responded to the outbreak which hit the country's shores by stressing, among others, that personal hygiene measures can stem the tide of the disease.
Among the measures is making sure the hands are clean.
Dr P. Ragesh, an infection control officer at a public health institution here said there are a number of ways germs can be transmitted to the human body.
"Among them is from hand to food. Germs can be transferred from dirty hands to food. If people consume the contaminated food, then they will get sick".
He said the otherwise could also happen, that is from food to the hand. When a person handled raw and uncooked food, there is a possibility that he may transfer the germs to other food that is consumed by others later, causing infection.
Take care when changing a baby's soiled diaper.
"There is a lot of germs on soiled baby diapers. Without washing your hands after handling such diapers, germs can be transferred to others including the baby," said Dr Ragesh.
Nose, mouth and eyes are among the other ways that can transfer germs and the best way of protection is to wash the hands.
He said among the bacteria that could be present on the palms are staphylococcus (that can cause boils and abscess), streptococci (sore throat), bacillus, clostridim, Escherichia Coli or E Coli that can cause diarrhea and the Influenza A virus.
"Washing your hands is the best infection control and it is important to wash your hands even when you are not feeling sick because most germs are actually transmitted a few days before you start to feel sick".
Unfortunately people did not wash their hands properly, most of the times simply wetting them before taking meals.
"For example if you go to a feast, the guests would only 'wet' their hands. Maybe the host did not provide the necessary handwashing facilities like sinks and soaps or handwash liquid," he said.
WASH YOUR HANDS WITH SOAPS
"Make sure you spend at least 20 seconds washing your hands before eating," said Clarence Wong, a senior nurse of a medical centre here.
Why is that so?
"Washing your hands properly with soap and water is the best way to prevent the spread of many common contagious diseases. Your hands may carry germs and when these germs enter your body, they can cause you to have an infection," she said.
"These germs can give you medical problems like sore throat, boils, upper respiratory tract infections, diarrhea, urinary tract infection and intestinal infections," said Wong.
WHEN DO WE WASH OUR HANDS?
Wong said washing the hands is a must before preparing food or eating.
"Do not forget to wash your hands throughly particularly after going to the bathroom, after changing the baby's diapers as well as after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing".
For frontline medical staff like nurses and doctors, hey should make compulsory washing their hands after treating or coming in contact with a sick person. Also before and after treating a wound.
"Also, make sure you wash your hands after handling garbage," said Dr Ragesh.
CHEAP AND EASY WAY TO CURB INFECTIONS
Washing your hands is the cheapest and easiest method to prevent the spread of germs.
According to the medical authorities, handwashing is the first line of defense against the spread of infectious diseases.
Viruses, bacteria and parasites can cause infectious diseases and some of these diseases are highly contagious, which means they can spread very easily from person to person.
Some infections can be spread by coughing, sneezing and direct contact with someone who is sick.
Dr Ragesh said: "Infants and toddlers are particularly susceptible to contagious diseases because they have yet to be exposed to many of the common germs. They have yet to built up resistance or immunity against these germs".
Adults should wash hands before eating or handling food, before feeding a child, after using the toilet, after diapering or helping a child use a toilet, after work or outdoor activities, after handling pets, or wiping a child's nose or mouth.
Children should be taught to wash their hands before and after eating, after using the toilet, after playing with their pets, after playing on the playground or whenever their hands became visibly dirty.