In March, as the COVID-19 virus spread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with the World Health Organization encouraged everyone to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly.
Frequent hand washing is “the most effective way to break the chain” of virus transmission from contaminated surfaces, according to Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health
The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water:
• Before, during and after preparing food;
• Before eating food;
• Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea;
• Before and after treating a cut or wound;
• After using the toilet;
• After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet;
• After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing;
• After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste;
• After handling pet food or pet treats; and,
• After touching garbage.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC also advises you wash your hands:
• After you have been in a public place and touched an item that may have been touched by other people such as door handles, gas pumps, shopping carts or electronic cash register touch pads; and,
• Before touching your eyes, nose or mouth because that is how germs enter the body.
If it is not possible to wash your hands with soap and water, hand sanitizer is advised.
According to health officials, hand washing is not just important to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus; it’s a basic hygiene practice that should be part of your normal routine.
In the 1980s, the U.S. military conducted hand washing experiments and found that ordering soldiers to wash their hands five times a day resulted in fewer personnel out on sick call. It was also in the 1980s that the Centers for Disease Control established hand washing recommendations.
Health officials have recommended frequent hand washing for decades.
According to the Global Handwashing Partnership, “Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor working in Vienna General Hospital, is known as the father of hand hygiene. In 1846, he noticed that the women giving birth in the medical student/doctor-run maternity ward in his hospital were much more likely to develop a fever and die compared to the women giving birth in the adjacent midwife-run maternity ward. He decided to investigate, seeking differences between the two wards. He noticed that doctors and medical students often visited the maternity ward directly after performing an autopsy. Based on this observation, he developed a theory that those performing autopsies got ‘cadaverous particles’ on their hands, which they then carried from the autopsy room into the maternity ward. Midwives did not conduct surgery or autopsies, so they were not exposed to these particles. As a result, Semmelweis imposed a new rule mandating hand washing with chlorine for doctors. The rates of death in his maternity ward fell dramatically.”
During the Crimean War, another hand washing champion, Florence Nightingale, implemented hand washing practices in the hospital in which she worked. These hand washing practices achieved a reduction in infections.