Handwashing has been one of the best ways to stay away from getting sick. This year washing one’s hands has become a daily routine for pretty much everyone on the planet due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks all over the world. With the vaccine being already available it might seem like the tough days are over. Yet, there are still several months before the masses get vaccinated, and the poorer countries get the round of help. Keeping this in mind, all the existing preventative measures should not get neglected: use of disinfection solution in hospital facilities, wearing a mask, and washing hands. The latter still seems to be a not-obvious solution to all the problems, so this article will clarify from the medical point of view why washing your hands during the pandemic is essential.
The story of handwashing in simple terms
When one’s hands get visibly dirty water can wash the dirt off. The same goes for the soap-water handwashing and viruses. Soap, as well as any disinfection solution for body, aims at removing all microorganisms from surfaces, and human skin in our case is the example of such a surface.
Virus consists of protein spikes on the outside; this layer protects the virus viral genome and also helps it invade human cells. Soap lather helps destroy those ‘spikes’ exposing the virus to the surrounding environment and removing its main armor against humans. Then, the soap lather takes over the remaining parts of the virus into its bubbles and washes it away when you rinse the soapy mixture from your hands.
But note here that such process of virus removal from your skin is possible when:
- You wet hands first
- You use soap
- You wash hands for at least 20 seconds for the lather to appear
- You scrub your hands thoroughly
- You rinse the soapy foam with tap water
Scrubbing is essential because it also helps dislodging viral particles. This is why WHO, CDC, UNICEF, and many other organizations stress the necessity of doing so. The tap water in this context is also preferable because whenever still water is used by several people, every following person takes away germs from the previous one. If tap water is unavailable, doctors advise using some kind of disinfection solution for human bodies as a replacement. But let’s take a look at every step from the scientific point of view.
Step-by-step handwashing process with scientific explanations
1. Water hands and use soap
- Tap or any kind of running water is essential for handwashing. The use of non-fresh still water may only contaminate your hands even more. Even if the person before you only put their hands into the water for a second, all the germs already got into it, and will do more harm than good to you.
- Getting hands wet before using soap is also essential because otherwise the saving bubbles that destroy the virus’s envelope protein will not form. Note here that some soapy disinfection solutions do not form lather or foam, usually these are organic ones; it is highly recommended to use the ‘foamy’ soap during the pandemic.
Additional notes: Use regular soap, not antibacterial one. The latter may only cause development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria without any proven greater efficiency against germs when compared to the regular soap.
2. Wash and scrub hands for at least 20 seconds
Scrubbing and lathering of all hands surfaces (palms, back of the hand, between fingers, and under nails) helps to lift all possible dirt from hands. Moreover, psychologically, when a person knows scrubbing is essential for a particular set of time, they tend to wash their hands more thoroughly.
The 20-seconds rule has not been strictly proven by any study. There have been multiple researches performed by universities and disinfection solution company representatives as well as individual laboratories to determine the optimal time for handwashing and its direct impact on the germs-free hands. All of them show that the fewer seconds a person washes hands, the more germs remain. Yet, none of them agree on a particular number of seconds the handwashing procedure has to last since the length depends on a multitude of factors, such as the type of soil and contaminants on one’s hands, the soap used, the water, etc. As a result, when the pandemic hit the world, world organizations related to healthcare took upon an average number of 20 seconds of active scrubbing for handwashing as a universal timeframe.
3. Rinse hands with running water
The explanation of using the disease-free fresh running water is the same as for water used to wet the hands: recontamination risk. Besides that, not rinsing hands and hence leaving the dirty soap with viruses on one’s hands is not the brightest idea; plus the hands will get dry and crackle if soap is not removed from them for a long time.
Additional note: Some people prefer not to touch the tap after rinsing their hands in fear of recontamination but there is no evidence that can prove such a theory. If you need to touch a handle in a public toilet or close a tap, and you are afraid of recontamination, you can always use some additional disinfection solutions like hands sanitizer after leaving the public facility.
Handwashing or specific disinfection solutions?
The good old bar of soap and clean water can actually do more good than the high-tech disinfection solutions like hand sanitizers. Of course, when it comes to hospitals, surgeons, for instance, wash their hands with soap and then still apply specific disinfection solution in hospital to guarantee 100% germ-free hands for operations. In daily life, a regular handwashing routine still proves to be a better protection against COVID-19. In simple terms, a hand sanitizer kills some germs yet the rest remain on your skin. Handwashing might not kill all germs, yet the rinsing part takes them all away from skin, making it, in fact, cleaner.
Handwashing success stories in numbers
Without any doubt, governments and health organizations would not make 7.8 billion people on the planet wash their hands without a scientific proof and success stories in place. The old researches show that proper hand hygiene can reduce cases of respiratory diseases by 20%, and diarrhea by 30%. So by using a simple disinfection solution for body in the form of a soap bar, people in developing countries, for instance, can significantly ease their lives. Considering that yearly 1.8 million children under 5 die from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, this gives high hopes for them.
In terms of COVID-19 success story, there is still no scientific evidence with numbers and graphs that could prove the effectiveness of handwashing. However, there are studies for other respiratory diseases that prove the method effectiveness. For instance, handwashing and use of disinfection solutions lowered the statistics for influenza by 10 times.
Effectiveness of handwashing and application of various types of disinfection solution for human body has been out there for many years. The pandemic made health organizations dig up the data in order to prove the world that washing one’s hands is the best preventative measure against respiratory diseases, and COOVID-19 among them. Tap water and bar soap can literally save a life in the tough times of many deaths and worldwide lockdowns. So buy a soap and wash your hands at least six times a day to stay healthy in the pandemic.