Happy Cinco de Mayo! May your hands be washed well frequently and help prevent the spread of infection. I know this is not the typical toast to go with the annual Margarita splurging day that celebrates the Mexican army’s victory over the French army at the Battle of Puebla is 1862. I promise the intent of my toast is pure and full of hope for your good health.
The 5th of May is not only Cinco de Mayo it is also World Hand Hygiene Day. It is possible that World Hand Hygiene Day may never be as eagerly or widely celebrated as the Cinco de Mayo. It is likely that the simple act of cleaning your hands at the appropriate times will save more lives and prevent more infections than any other action we can take. The battle against pathogens and the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria is literally in our hands.
When we look at the data it is apparent that there is reason to celebrate World Hand Hygiene Day and take a stand to stop the spread of infection.
Let’s look at a bit of data related to hand hygiene:
- A large percentage of foodborne diseases are spread by hands that were not cleansed well
- Handwashing can reduce the risk of respiratory infections by 16%
- Up to 80% of common infections are spread by hands
- 10% of people do not wash their hands at all after going to the toilet
- Only 1 in 20 people wash their hands appropriately after going to the toilet
In the United States, some healthcare providers clean their hands less than 50% of the times they should
- These healthcare providers may need to clean their hands 100 times per 12-hour shift
- According to UNICEF, one in every four childhood deaths, approximately 1.4 million globally, result from diarrhea and pneumonia. Handwashing with soap and water could reduce the death rates from these diseases up to 65% (Sam Stevens, Clean the World Foundation).
Effective hand hygiene takes less than 20 seconds and is truly an action that saves lives and changes the world. We spend millions of dollars looking for ways to keep humans safe from infection. The first line of defense is found in appropriate hand hygiene. Doing the right thing takes a small time commitment combined with the awareness of when it is important to perform hand hygiene.
There are very specific times when washing your hands is imperative:
- After going to the toilet
- Before eating or preparing food
- Before and after taking care of someone who is ill
- Before and after treating a cut or injury
- After changing diapers
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching animals, their food or waste
- After touching garbage
There are five simple steps to washing your hands:
- Wet your hands
- Lather your hands with soap
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds
- Rinse your hands
- Dry your hands
If soap and water is not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands. It is important to remember that alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not as effective if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy. When using alcohol-based hand sanitizer be sure to follow these steps:
- Apply the product
- Rub your hands together
- Rub the product all over your hands and fingers until they are dry
Researchers in London estimate that if everyone routinely washed their hands, a million deaths a year could be prevented. Think about that, if it was your loved one that was still alive because we all washed our hands. We can’t live forever, but we shouldn’t die because someone didn’t wash their hands. Each time you wash your hands you could be saving a life, what could be more important than that. May you wash your hands well and frequently and have a very healthy Cinco de Mayo.