• Hana Kovac

This Simple Habit Saves Lives



Today I'm going to write about a simple habit which is as obvious as brushing your teeth or wiping from front to back on the toilet if you are a girl. Hand washing. You probably think it is not even worth writing about such basic stuff but you cannot imagine how many times I've seen adults not washing hands after using a public toilet! My husband reports the same - he commonly sees people getting out of the toilet without washing hands! Imagine these people prepare your lunch at the canteen or shake hands with you at work. Gross? Evidently, not for everyone. Let me take you through some history to see why hand washing is so important.

Discovery of the Importance of Hand Hygiene

It was an Austrian-Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis who discovered the importance of hand hygiene. While employed as assistant to the professor of the maternity clinic at the Vienna General Hospital in Austria in 1847, Semmelweis introduced hand washing with chlorinated lime solutions for interns who had performed autopsies. This immediately reduced the incidence of fatal puerperal fever (fever caused by uterine infection following childbirth) from about 10 percent (range 5–30 percent) to about 1–2 percent. However, his practise and opinion was ignored, rejected or ridiculed and in 1865 he was committed to an asylum. Semmelweis’s practice earned widespread acceptance only years after his death, when Louis Pasteur developed the germ theory of disease, offering a theoretical explanation for Semmelweis’s findings.

Why Hand Washing Saves Lives

Hand washing can prevent about 30% of diarrhea-related sicknesses and about 20% of respiratory infections (e.g., colds). Hand washing 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. Removing germs through hand washing may even help prevent skin and eye infections. Hand washing reduces the number of adults who get sick with diarrhea by 31% and reduces diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%. Also, it reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21%.

The Dirt Cure?

As you can see, hand washing is the most important habit you can teach your children. I am not a proponent of over sanitation and using disinfectants. A good old soap as for example Marseille soap or any other traditional hard soap will do. Don't use fragranced soap as it irritates the skin.

When to Wash Your Hands?

- after coming home from school, work or outing. I constantly remind my kids to wash hands after coming home from school or after playing outside

- before, during, and after preparing food

- before eating food

- before and after caring for someone who is sick

- before and after treating a cut or wound

- after using the toilet! If you see someone at a public toilet leaving without washing hands, educate him why hand washing is important and how it can save lives

- after changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet

- after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

- after touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste

- after touching garbage


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