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How Safe Are Our Hands?

Our hands are dirty. It’s a fact of life. You touch hundreds of different surfaces every day, all of which contain their own range of nasty germs and bugs. But more often than not, people write this information off as scaremongering when in actual fact, our hands are actually really, really disgusting.

Fortunately, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has got most of us washing our hands regularly and being conscious about the things that we touch. Although this is a good thing, it doesn’t completely rid our hands of germs and it’s still important to know just how dirty our hands can get.

Why are germs so problematic?

Germs are tiny organisms that can cause illnesses and diseases. They get on our hands quite easily and from virtually anywhere. When you touch a door handle, use a toilet, handle raw food, or touch somebody else, germs stick to them.

The problem is that germs can survive on our hands for up to three hours, but in other places, they can survive for longer. Each time you touch a surface, an object, food, or other people without washing your hands, you transfer your germs. And if your hands are wet, these germs can spread by 1,000 times more than when they’re dry.

Although the majority of people will be largely unaffected by most germs and organisms found on hands, younger children, older people, and those with compromised immune systems can be more susceptible to illnesses, sometimes quite seriously (i.e. in the case of the current coronavirus).

Here are some quick facts:

  • Almost 80% of illness-causing germs are spread by our hands
  • One germ can multiply into almost 8 million germs in a single day
  • There are more germs on our phones and keyboards than on a toilet seat
  • When you flush the toilet, germs can be ejected up to six feet into the air
  • Our remote controls are top carriers of germs and bacteria

Washing hands helps to prevent spreading germs to other people

Handwashing with soap and water helps to remove germs from hands. This prevents spreading germs and infections because:

  • People regularly touch their eyes, ears, nose, and mouth without thinking about it. Germs can easily get into the body through these areas, especially through the eyes, nose, and mouth, and make us sick.
  • Germs from unwashed hands can transfer to food and drink while people prepare and consume them. And in certain types of food and drink, germs can multiply.
  • Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, like door handles, tabletops, and toys and then be transferred to another person’s hands.

Therefore, handwashing helps prevent this from happening by killing germs. Although it’s impossible to have 100% germ-free hands (as soon as you’ve finished washing your hands, you’ll pick more up again), regular washing seriously mitigates the chance of passing on germs and illnesses.

You should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds for the best results. Image credit: Jason Jarrach/Unsplash

What about using hand sanitiser?

Hand sanitiser is also a great option for keeping our hands free from harmful germs and pathogens, but you need to make sure that you’re using the right one. Hand sanitisers that have 60%+ alcohol content are very effective at killing pathogens like coronavirus. According to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, coronavirus is an envelope virus, meaning that it has a coating around it which alcohol can attack, killing the virus.

All types of alcohol hand sanitisers work. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a foam or a gel, or whether it comes from a bottle or a pump, what matters is high alcohol content and that’s what you should be looking for on the bottle.

That being said, using soap and water is always a better option when it’s a feasible one. Public health officials acknowledge that the best and most consistent way of keeping your hands clean and helping to prevent the spread of germs and pathogens is to wash your hands with soap and water. When you’re on the go and your hands aren’t visibly soiled, using hand sanitiser will usually do the trick.

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