The most common way germs are spread is by people's hands. Germs are often harmless but they can also cause illnesses such as colds and stomach upsets, as well as more serious illnesses such as E.coli and flu.
A third of infections can be prevented with effective hand hygiene, which means washing hands thoroughly with soap and water and drying them thoroughly. Hospital wards, clinical areas and many shops also have alcohol hand gel dispensers available for staff and visitors to use.
Washing your hands properly can help protect you, your family, children and others.
Some key things to remember about washing your hands:
- Soap and water is the most effective way to wash your hands. If this is not readily available, you should use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Dry your hands well after washing.
When to wash hands
You should make regular and thorough hand washing part of your daily routine; especially:
- After using the toilet, urinal or after changing a nappy
- Before and during the preparation of food, eating or drinking
- After touching animals or animal waste
- After handling rubbish
- After cleaning the bathroom, changing your bedding or doing laundry
- Before and after touching a sick or injured person, their bedding, any wounds or dressings
- After blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing or touching your nose
- Before and after touching your eyes, nose or mouth, or non-intact skin such as caused by acne, boils, eczema or other skin conditions
- Before and after visiting a hospital ward (alcohol-based hand-rubs are also provided)
- Before and after sports practice, games or working out
- Whenever there is bare skin contact with others or with shared surfaces or equipment - for example, this could mean in the gym, after travelling on public transport or doing the shopping.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
When you wash your hands with soap and water and rinse in running water you will have removed a large number of germs. Hand drying properly will reduce the number of germs further and will prevent the skin from picking up germs more easily. If hands are not dried properly your skin may become sore and cracked, encouraging more germs to settle on your hands. Germs are also attracted to wet or damp areas.
Only ever use a towel that hasn’t been used by anyone else, whether at home or in public places. Paper towels are preferable in public places as you can wipe the germs off, but if not available, a hot air dryer will do. Remember to dry the whole of each hand, especially the fingertips and between the fingers.
Prevent the spread of infection
- Cover your nose and mouth with a disposable single-use tissue when sneezing, coughing, wiping and blowing your nose.
- Dispose of used tissues promptly in the nearest waste bin.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after coughing, sneezing, or using tissues.
- Remember: alcohol-based hand-rub is useful when soap and water are not available, but it doesn't work if your hands are soiled. Alcohol-based hand-rubs are also not effective against viral gastro-enteritis - including norovirus, also known as winter vomiting virus.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
- Don't forget to encourage children to wash and dry their hands thoroughly at important times during the day.
- Stay home if you are sick
- If working with children, have them play with hard surface toys that can be easily cleaned
- If you are displaying symptoms of coronavirus, stay at home, call the COVID-111 line and ask about testing