Hand Hygiene - Because the future is at our hands


On the World Handwashing day, Jibi Thankachan, Specialist & Preventionist at King Saud Medical City, Riyadh highlights the importance of hand hygiene.


Filed under
Infection Control
October 15, 2021
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Hand Hygiene - Because the future is at our hands

Washing your hands properly is one of the most important things you can do to help prevent and control the spread of many illnesses. Good hand hygiene will reduce the risk of things like flu, food poisoning and healthcare associated infections being passed from person to person.

The theme for World Hand Hygiene Day is "The Future is at our Hands". The slogan for this day is, "Seconds save lives – Clean your Hands!"

Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. 

How germs get onto hands and make people sick?

Feces from people or animals is an important source of germs like Salmonella, E. coli O157, and Norovirus that cause diarrhea, and it can spread some respiratory infections like Adenovirus and Hand-foot-Mouth disease. These kinds of germs can get onto hands after people use the toilet or change a diaper, but also in less obvious ways, like after handling raw meats that have invisible amounts of animal faeces on them. A single gram of human faeces which is about the weight of a paper clip can contain one trillion germs. Germs can also get onto hands if people touch any object that has germs on it because someone coughed or sneezed on it or was touched by some other contaminated object. When these germs get onto hands and are not washed off, they can be passed from person to person and make people sick.

Washing hands prevents illnesses and spread of infections to others. Handwashing with SOAP/ALCOHOL BASED RUBS removes germs from hands. This helps prevent infections because:

  • People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it. Germs can get into the body through the eyes, nose and mouth and make us sick.
  • Germs from unwashed hands can get into foods and drinks while people prepare or consume them. Germs can multiply in some types of foods or drinks, under certain conditions, and make people sick.
  • Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, like handrails, table tops, or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands.
  • Removing germs through handwashing therefore helps prevent diarrhea and respiratory infections and may even help prevent skin and eye infections.

Teaching people about hand washing helps them and their communities stay healthy. Handwashing education in the community:

  • Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 23-40%
  • Reduces diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58% 
  • Reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21% 
  • Reduces absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29-57%

Hand hygiene impact in pediatric community

Not washing hands harms children around the world. About 1.8 million children under the age of 5 die each year from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, the top two killers of young children around the world.

  • Handwashing with soap could protect about 1 out of every 3 young children who get sick with diarrhea and almost 1 out of 5 young children with respiratory infections like pneumonia.
  • Although people around the world clean their hands with water, very few use soap to wash their hands. Washing hands with soap removes germs much more effectively. 
  • Handwashing education and access to soap in schools can help improve attendance.
  • Good handwashing early in life may help improve child development in some settings.
  • Encourage Children’s to do handwashing after using the toilet.

Hand washing helps battle the rise in antibiotic resistance in hospitals

Preventing sickness reduces the amount of antibiotics people use and the likelihood that Antibiotic Resistance will develop. Hand washing can prevent about 30% of diarrhea-related illnesses and about 20% of respiratory infections (e.g., colds) Antibiotics often are prescribed unnecessarily for these health issues. Reducing the number of these infections by washing hands frequently helps prevent the overuse of antibiotics, the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world. Handwashing can also prevent people from getting sick with germs that are already resistant to antibiotics and that can be difficult to treat.

Hand hygiene facts and stats

  • On an average, you come into contact with 300 surfaces every 30 minutes, exposing you to 840,000 germs.
  • Only about 5% of people wash their hands correctly.
  • Most people only wash their hands for 6 seconds.
  • Around 33% of people don’t use soap when washing their hands.
  • Up to 80% of communicable diseases are transferred by touch.
  • Proper hand washing can reduce diarrhea rates by 40% and respiratory infections by close to 20%.
  • Failing to wash hands correctly contributes to nearly 50% of all foodborne illness outbreaks.
  • Only 20% of people wash their hands before preparing food, and 39% before eating food.
  • About 7% of women and 15% of men do not wash their hands at all after using the bathroom.
  • Most bacteria on our hands is on the fingertips and under the nails. The number of bacteria on our fingertips doubles after using the bathroom. Most people wash the palms of their hands and miss everything else.
  • Damp hands are 1,000x more likely to spread bacteria than dry hands. Only about 20% of people dry their hands after washing them.
  • There is fecal matter on 10% of credit cards, 14% of banknotes and 16% of cellphones.
  • Approximately 39% of people don’t wash their hands after sneezing, coughing or after blowing their nose.
  • Elevator buttons harbor 22% more bacteria than toilet seats.
  • Reminder signs are successful in encouraging more handwashing.
  • Dirty sinks result in less handwashing.
  • Handwashing rates are higher in the mornings than evenings.

Hand hygiene 2021 message

  • Ten out of ten patients prefer care from clean hands.
  • Use the soap, don’t be a dope.
  • War on germs, hand-to-hand combat.
  • Wash for happiness.
  • Don’t be dirty, be neat. Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Don’t pass the bug, make handwashing a must.
  • Bury the germ, wash your hands


The practice of hand washing is no longer only a means of personal hygiene but an important measure of infection control. The incidents of transmitting infectious disease can be minimized by ensuring that hands are washed after using the restroom, before and after eating, when hands are visibly dirty or contaminated, after contact with animals or other person’s intact skin, after contact with body fluids, after contact with inanimate objects and the list is not redundant by any means.

A major way to reduce the incidents of transmitting infections is to think of frequent hand washing, not to be optional but as a rule. Secondly, always keep in mind that the use of gloves does not eliminate the need to wash hands. To protect your health, it is recommended you wash your hands as often as necessary.