How important is hand hygiene after the pandemic?


With coronavirus recently stealing the limelight, it has been easy to avoid talks over the more common illnesses. As we start to see a global return to the workplace and a drastic increase in social mixing, hygiene awareness remains of the utmost importance to help combat the spread of viruses and infections. Upholding a good hand hygiene can help ensure our safe return back to a normal way of life. 

Keeping Vigilant: The benefits of hand hygiene  

Health and hygiene has been the headlining act since COVID-19 first swept the globe, but, as the pandemic begins to become part of our history, it is important  that health and hygiene remain at the forefront of our minds as we hope to progress into a healthier future.  

In a new article published by BMJ Open, public health experts have found that during the pandemic the spread of common infections, such as a cold, norovirus, and diarrhoea, had greatly reduced in number. The lockdown restrictions, put in place to ward off the initial threat of coronavirus, have also kept our immune systems safe from the usual mix of infections. “All these factors: people staying at home, mixing less, and washing their hands, will have had a huge impact on reducing the usual spread of infections”, states public health experts. However, as the end of the pandemic etches itself into history, and the amount of people returning to work and socialising increases, health experts have foreseen a potential new threat from the usual suspects.

Prof. Gharbia, from the UK Health Security Agency and one of the authors of the BMJ study, states that ‘Norovirus, commonly known as the winter vomiting bug, has been at lower levels than normal throughout the pandemic, but as people have begun to mix more the numbers of outbreaks have started to increase again”. As such, the UK health Security Agency (UKHSA) is reminding the public to stay vigilant with concerns about hygiene, prompting the public to take simple actions that will reduce the chance of further outbreaks.

Ordinarily, our immune system is continually fighting off seasonal colds and viruses that, in turn, help us build a strong natural resistance to these infections. Unfortunately, due to the lockdown confinements, we have all experienced a drastic decrease in exposure to common infections. This lack of exposure means that most of us are without a built form of natural immunity from everyday infections like the common cold which is likely to mean that the symptoms of these infections may feel worse.

A slogan for Life: Catch it, bin it, kill it.

The “catch it, bin it, kill it” slogan has been repeatedly used in government health campaigns to help stop the spread of infections. First used in 2009, this simple slogan reinforced the three rules to help prevent the spread of seasonal flu, reminding everyone that the most effective method that can prevent the spread of bacteria and infection is to uphold good personal hygiene. 

The BBC has reported that Google Trends data showed that internet searches for key phrases, such as "food poisoning", “gastroenteritis” and “sickness bug” drastically fell, while searches for and about “handwashing” and “disinfection” rose substantially during the UK’s first Covid wave.

Practising proper hand hygiene is key in reducing the spread of infections across the board. From Norovirus, to respiratory tract infections (RTIs), cleanliness is an extremely effective preventive of harbouring pathogens. The CDC have celebrated the ‘best ways to prevent infection’ stating: ‘Viruses that cause colds can stay on your hands, and regular hand washing can help protect you from getting sick’. 

Here is a list of key prevention tips:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Wash them for at least 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol.     
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Viruses that cause colds can enter your body this way and make you sick.
  • Stay away from people who are sick. Sick people can spread viruses that cause the common cold through close contact with others.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces.

As we advance out of the pandemic, it remains paramount that we uphold a good standard of personal hygiene. Following these simple steps can help prevent the spread of harmful infections and slowly revive our natural immunities and aid us in our safe return back to a normal way of life.