Drug resistant infections are on the rise, the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is spreading rapidly and research has demonstrated you may be participating in activities that exacerbate the issue. Preventing the spread of contagious disease is the best option as there is no cure for viral infections and COVID-19 isn't a simple virus.
However, the key to prevention is to be smart about it. One of the primary ways is using proper handwashing techniques with safe products. Unfortunately, many still work under the assumption that antibacterial soap or hand sanitizer will get the job done safely and correctly. Yet even the FDA acknowledges antibacterial soaps haven’t been proven effective and they have potentially negative health effects.1
The authors of one study2 suggested hospital-based health care providers had a hand hygiene compliance rate of 70% to 72%. This means that at least 28% of the health care providers were not practicing safe handwashing techniques.
Yet, proper handwashing is especially important in the hospital where close contact among patients is common. Critically ill patients are especially susceptible to the risks introduced in hospital environments. The results of one study suggested that using a patient hand hygiene protocol reduced infection rates.3
Washing your hands helps remove harmful bacteria that may contaminate your immediate surroundings. It also stops the spread of infection and reduces the chances that germs may be transferred to your internal systems when you touch your nose, mouth or eyes.4
By learning to use proper handwashing techniques you and others may reduce the number of people who get a diarrheal illness by at least 23% and you can contribute to reducing respiratory infections by up to 21%.
Immediate Disease Prevention Strategy — Proper Handwashing
In the past decade there's been a rapid emergence of resistant bacteria; this has rather quickly risen to the level of a crisis. The overuse and misuse of antibiotic medications has accelerated what is supposed to be a natural process.5
Antibiotic resistance has made it more difficult to treat diseases such as gonorrhea, tuberculosis and pneumonia — one of the secondary infections occurring in individuals with COVID-19. The World Health Organization says antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today. It can affect anyone and leads to higher medical costs and mortality rates.
Yet, the simple act of handwashing may help reduce the potential for infection. In a unique study designed by the U.S. military, the Navy studied incoming recruits to evaluate the rate of respiratory illnesses. By the early 2000s, respiratory illnesses had become the most common cause of lost duty time.6,7
In the past, the military used ultraviolet lights, vaccines and disinfectant vapors to help reduce the number of lost hours. In this study, recruits were ordered to wash their hands five times a day and drill instructors underwent monthly education on the importance of handwashing.
After just two years, recruits had a 45% reduced rate of respiratory illnesses than the recruits from the year before the program began. The simple act of washing their hands consistently and appropriately had nearly halved the number of recruits who developed a respiratory illness.
While recent news reports have said a review of multiple studies showed that handwashing can reduce respiratory illness risks by as much as 54%, none of the news agencies has linked directly to the source. According to a 2019 study, the reality of measuring implementation has challenges:8
“Most previous efficacy studies reporting the impact of intense implementation of hygiene behavior change on respiratory illness have been small, involving up to 6,000 people … however, the impact of implementing hygiene promotion programs on respiratory illness on a large scale is still unclear.”
The reason for this, the authors explain, is that:
“Accurately assessing handwashing behaviors is problematic. Direct observation of handwashing by trained staff is both highly resource intensive and also biased, as the presence of an observer alters the handwashing behavior.
Assessment of handwashing behavior through a low-cost proxy measure such as presence of soap and water in a designated handwashing station is a practical alternative and has been associated with lower rates of respiratory illness in some settings, but not in others.”
The bottom line is, research does show that diligently washing your hands helps stave off infections, including respiratory illnesses. So, the best thing to do is be sure to follow the CDC’s advice and make good handwashing a regular practice.