Handwashing slows the virus more effectively than face masks

The clever use of human hands creates ease for people in performing day-to-day activities. Fingers of the hand contain some of the densest areas of nerve endings in the body. Reports indicate that around 80 percent of illnesses are transmitted to the human body by the hands. Germs can get onto hands after people use a toilet, or when they handle raw meat that has even an imperceptible amount of animal feces on it. Just one gram of human feces contains trillions of germs.

Christos Nicolaides, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Cyprus, said: "Only 70% of people wash their hands after using a toilet." If someone coughed or sneezed on a surface and we accidentally touch it, the germs on it can be passed to us and likewise to other people, ultimately making everyone sick.

Humans touch their faces 43 times in a day. The frequency of touching other objects is also equally high. Elizabeth Scott, Ph.D., co-director of the Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community at Simmons University in Boston, says, "In the final analysis, it's the hands. The hands are the connecting piece. You can't necessarily control what you touch. You can't control who else touched it. But you can look after your own hands.” So, our hands need special protection in this Corona crisis.

Sanitizers for hand cleaning are the best option when soap and water are unavailable. Sanitizers cannot remove all types of germs like flu viruses. Sanitizers even cannot get rid of harmful chemicals like pesticides, weedicides, and heavy metals. Additionally, their effectiveness gets decreases when your hands are greasy. The liquid sanitizers are active against only a certain number of microbes, and their shelf-life is also very short. They are unstable at extreme temperatures. Liquid sanitizers work only between a limited range of pH (6.5-9.0). Only a few sanitizers are active against bacteriophage and spores.

Some people use surgical masks also. A disposable surgical mask is a medical device that is available in pharmacies and used for protection against infection-causing agents, especially those present in droplets. These droplets can be the production of saliva or respiration. The exhalation of the infected person emits these droplets. However, masks should not be used for more than 8 hours. Paul Hunter at the University of East Anglia, UK, said "Masks are not much effective against the coronavirus. Masks are recommended for sick people to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Masks are easy to be contaminated by the person wearing it. The use of masks everywhere is not apparent as it may deprive healthcare workers of the equipment due to the limited supply. Wearing a mask does not assure you of full protection from the coronavirus; the virus can enter through eyes. The masks do prevent droplets from entering, but aerosol particles can penetrate them. Masks are extremely crucial for those coming in contact with the infected person. People are going for the homemade masks also which have very limited efficiency.

According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers at removing certain kinds of germs. May Chu, a clinical professor in epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health on the Anschutz Medical Campus, said, "Putting a face mask on does not mean that you stop the other practices." The global world is facing a shortage of masks. Gérald Heuliez, managing director of Kolmi-Hopen, told French news agency AFP that under normal conditions, they manufacture 150 million surgical masks and 20 million respirators per year. This time they have been requested to make 500 million masks.

According to the guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), masks are effective only when used in combination with handwashing and hand-cleaning. Washing hands with soap and water bring the bacterial count to about 8% of their earlier count, and washing hands without soap reduced about three-fourth of bacteria, as found in a study at the London School of Tropical Hygiene in 2011. A 2013 research shows that instead of proper handwashing, people go for "splash and dash"- just wet their hands without using soap. Coronavirus is a layer of fat. Soaps breakdown this lipid layer and make its existence impossible. Experts say that proper handwashing can reduce the spread of COVID-19 by 37%. Educational posters, public announcements can help people to realize the importance of handwashing.

Proper handwashing removes all types of germs from the hands. The following are the recommended steps for handwashing.

  1. Wet your hands with clean water.

  2. Rub soap on both sides of the hand and form a lather.

  3. Continue scrubbing for at least 20 seconds.

  4. Rinse your hands under clean water.

  5. Completely dry your hands using a disposable towel or air dryer.

A few important points to consider while handwashing is:

  1. Never dip your hands in standing bowls or basins of water to wash, use running water instead.

  2. Do not touch doorknob, and faucets after washing hands.


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