Hand Hygiene and COVID-19

Hand Hygiene and COVID-19 | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Practicing good hygiene – specifically hand washing with warm water and soap – is known to be one of the best preventative measures against COVID-19, and it’s something you should do frequently, because aside from COVID-19, regular hand washing can also help remove other parasites such as influenza as well as metapneumovirus – a type of respiratory infection that can lead to pneumonia.

When looked at under a microscope, coronaviruses appear to be covered with point-like spires. Right below that surface is the outer layer of the virus made up of lipids – otherwise known as fat. Think of it as a layer of grease on your hands. For example, when you attempt to wash off that grease with just water alone, it’s much harder to get off. In order to dissolve it, you need to add soap to the mix. When you use soap in combination with water, it results in a lather. This later will then essentially inactivate the virus so that it will no longer bind to you and cannot enter human cells. This is also why health officials are warning against touching your face (such as the eyes, nose and mouth), as the virus can easily enter the body this way if your hands are not clean.

That being said, even if you’re someone who practices healthy hygiene habits and washes your hands regularly, some studies have suggested that many people still don’t follow proper hand washing rules. In fact, one study found that one in every four people simply wet or splashed their hands with water without using soap; while the same study found that one in ten didn’t even wash their hands after using the restroom. Another commonality found in this study was that those who did was their hands with soap and water didn’t spend enough time doing so – washing their hands for just a few seconds as opposed to the suggested 15 to 30 seconds (or the approximate length of time it would take to sing the ABC’s.) The longer you wash your hands, the more reductions in the number of microbes.

When it comes to washing your hands, there is also a specific technique you should follow:

1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm.)
2. Turn off the tap.
3. Apply soap (bar soap or liquid soap.)
4. Lather your hands by running them together, including the backs of your hands, palms of your hands, in between your fingers, as well as underneath your fingernails. (Lathering your hands this way will create friction which is what ultimately helps to lift dirt and other germs from the skin.)

Once you have done this for 15 to 30 seconds, you should then rinse your hands under clean, running water once again. It is important that you avoid rinsing your hands in water that has been standing in a sink or basin, as your hands could potentially become recontaminated if there has been previous use of this water.

To dry your hands, you should do so with a clean hand towel and/or paper towel. While you can also air dry them, it’s important to note that germs can be transferred much more easily if your hands are wet – therefore, the hands should always be dried after washing them. While you’re not likely to spread germs from using the same hand towel as someone else if the towel has dried in between use, it’s still recommended that you change your hand towels every 2 days or so – especially if you are not the only one in your household.