HSE urges everybody to ‘get back to basics’ on World Hand Hygiene Day

HSE Press Release
Friday 5th May 2023

Good hand hygiene stops the spread of infection

Today (Friday, 5th of May 2023), marks the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Hand Hygiene Day around the world. This year the HSE is urging everybody to ‘get back to basics’ with their hand hygiene as hand hygiene is not just for Covid-19, but for life.

Dr Eimear Brannigan, HSE Clinical Lead for Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control (AMRIC) says: “Most years when Hand Hygiene Day comes around we try to think of ways to talk to people about the importance of hand hygiene in preventing infection. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we all understand that hand hygiene has had a major part to play in all our lives.

“Since COVID-19 people are very aware of the importance of hand hygiene and are cleaning their hands regularly. Many viruses and bugs can’t get through your skin but if the bug is on your hand when you put your hand to your eye, mouth or nose you can catch infection. This is why hand hygiene plays an important part in stopping the spread of many infections including superbugs which are bacteria that no longer respond to many antibiotics.

“We know that people tend to go back to their old habits when a crisis starts to get better so it is vitally important that we all understand that we need to keep focusing on hand hygiene. We need to get back to basics and I want to encourage people to continue to clean their hands. Having sanitiser and access to hand washing facilities will make it easier for everyone to maintain their good hand hygiene habits.”

Dr Paul Ryan, a Cork based GP and AMRIC Team member says: “All GPs are on the frontline dealing with infections every day and we understand how difficult it can be to fully prevent them. Many parents will identify with the fact that most young children have 6 - 10 viral illnesses every year. Hand hygiene plays a major part in preventing the spread of childhood illnesses. We want people to keep on going with their hand hygiene, help your children to learn good hand hygiene and help us to stop the spread of infections.”

Have a look at the video on proper hand washing. We often think we have washed our hands properly but check out this short experiment and you will be surprised at what gets left on our hands if not done correctly.

Tips for stopping infections spreading at home

The goal is to find a good balance between keeping your hands clean when it’s most important without limiting your enjoyment of life. Particularly important times to wash your hand are:

  • If you were in contact with someone who has COVID-19, a fever or respiratory symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing)
  • Before and after visiting someone in a hospital or residential setting
  • When you have been in contact with a person or an animal with an infection
  • When you get back to your home from being out and about or at work, especially if your work involves a lot of contact with people or animals
  • Before starting to prepare or handle food
  • After touching raw meat and poultry
  • Before eating food
  • After using the toilet and after changing nappies
  • After handling animal waste.

Regular use of a hand moisturiser will protect your hands from the drying effects of hand hygiene products. If you have dry skin or a skin condition, apply moisturiser after washing and drying your hands.

Be wary of the technology…

Computers, phones and mobiles are a constant in lives, we can’t work without them. But how clean are they? Research has shown that PCs, keyboards, phones are full of bacteria – a mouse has an average of 260 bacteria per centimetre squared, a keyboard has 511 and the mouthpiece of a telephone has an impressive 3,895! Make sure you clean your tech equipment even if you are still working from home. And remember to clean your hands.

The toilet is fine - but watch out for the handles, taps and air hand dryers…

The real danger is not the toilet but the handles and taps. Don’t touch the toilet seat with your hands if it’s visibly dirty. Our skin acts as a protective barrier when we use the toilet - it is the largest organ in the human body. Drying your hands with paper towel will reduce the bacterial count by 45 – 60% on your hands. However, using some hand dryers can increase the bacteria on your hands by up to 255% because they can blow out bacteria already living in the conveniently warm and moist environment.

Get more information

There are lots of tips on hand hygiene on www.hse.ie/handhygiene and you can learn all about bacteria on www.e-bug.eu, a teaching/ learning resource for schools and colleges (and parents!). On ebug you can find out about bugs through quizzes, games and home science experiments. Give them a try!

Find out more @HSELive and share content #HandHygiene #BacktoBasics

Last updated on: 05 / 05 / 2023