Issue of October 15, 2017
Mt. Province

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Global Hand washing Day

“Our hands, our future” is the theme for this year’s celebration of the Global Hand washing Day today, Oct. 15.

Recognizing hand washing as a key approach in disease prevention, the United Nations General Assembly designated Oct. 15 each year as a day to increase awareness on the benefits of hand washing with soap. The move was initiated in August 2008 by the public-private partnership for hand washing in Stockholm, Sweden during the Annual World Water Week. The first Global Hand washing Day took place on Oct. 15, 2008.

Hand washing with soap is the most inexpensive way to prevent diarrhea and acute respiratory infections. It is estimated that it can reduce incidents or new cases of diarrhea by 30 percent and respiratory infections by 21 percent in children below five years old. The number of deaths from diarrhea is reduced by almost 50 percent and deaths from acute respiratory infections by 25 percent.

Pneumonia is the number one cause of death among children less than five years old. About 1.8 million children die of pneumonia each year. Diarrhea and pneumonia combined cause about 3.5 million deaths worldwide per year.

Hand washing with soap before eating and after using the toilet can save more lives than any single vaccine or medical treatment.

When do we need to wash? We should wash hands before, during, and after preparing food; before eating; before and after caring for someone who is sick; before and after treating a cut or wound; after using the toilet; after changing diapers and cleaning up a child who has used a toilet; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; after touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste; and after touching garbage.

Is it safe to just wash with water? Guidelines say that it is best to wash with water and soap since water alone cannot remove all the germs or microorganisms that cause disease. Soap forms “micelles” with the dirt/germs/chemicals in our hands and make them easier to wash off.

What kind of soap should we use? Any simple soap will suffice. Studies show that ordinary soaps are effective and can do the task of removing dirt. There are no data demonstrating that antibacterial soaps are better in preventing disease than washing with plain soap and water.

Consider the bad effects of the additional chemical ingredients on your health and on the environment. Some of these can be dangerous.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration banned in 2016 the use of 19 chemicals used in household antibacterial hand and body washes widely marketed as being more effective than ordinary soaps. Two of these chemicals are triclosan and triclocarbon. There is evidence that these two chemicals and others disrupt human hormone cycles and can also cause muscle weakness.

In situations where you do not have soap or water, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Take note, however, that hand sanitizers do not remove all types of germs. Example is clostridium difficile. Hand sanitizers are also not effective when the hands are visibly dirty and greasy. They cannot remove chemicals or pesticides.

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Medical questions and concerns may be emailed to or Answers will be emailed directly or will be provided in the paper’s succeeding issue.

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