How to wash your hands to prevent disease

lavado de manos

Tens of millions of bacteria live within a few inches of our skin. The interior of our body is home to vast communities of microorganisms, such as the microbiome. The human body is home to about 100 billion microbes. Most of these microbes are not only harmless, but the proper balance of these communities have proven to be critical to the health of the body. There are foreign pathogens, viruses or bacteria, which can be harmful when inserted into our cells, causing various diseases, which we know as infectious diseases.

Hygiene is one of the true revolutions in human beings, allowing them to easily prevent diseases caused by pathogens. In particular, handwashing with soap and water is a simple act but, at the same time, one of the most effective in preventing infectious diseases. It allows the elimination of microorganisms that cause respiratory diseases or diarrhoea. Soap, or other disinfectant products, have components capable of dissolving the lipid layer that forms the array of viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19 disease.  

How to wash your hands properly?

In order for handwashing to be effective, it must be done correctly. Primary care experts believe that it is after 30 seconds that the number of germs is reduced from 90 to 99%. To achieve good hand washing, it is recommended that you first wet your hands with warm water and then rub them with soap all over, even between your fingers, for about 20 seconds. Then, rinse your hands and dry them with a clean towel. This operation should be repeated several times a day at key moments: before and after eating, then after visiting the toilet, after handling garbage, after touching animals...

Many studies have documented the ability of hand washing to prevent diseases such as influenza or COVID-19. In fact, handwashing is the main recommendation of international health authorities against the new coronavirus above even the masks, whose use includes more risks of being done incorrectly.  

Hand washing and influenza 

A study led by the Center for Networked Biomedical Research in Epidemiology and Public Health (CIBERESP) and that of Respiratory Diseases (CIBERES), analyzed over three years more than 1500 patients hospitalized for influenza A (H1N1) in 36 different hospitals. As explained by the Carlos III Health Institute (ISCIII), "hand washing demonstrated a preventive effect on flu cases that would have required hospital admission". In addition, "the reduction in the risk of hospital admission was greater when the frequency of hand washing was increased: that is why hand washing is recommended at least 5 times a day (and better 10 or more)". Especially if you live with people infected by this virus.

Nevertheless, the data reveal that the vaccine is the main measure to prevent cases of flu, since it manages to reduce the risk by 87%. Another curious conclusion drawn from the study is that the use of urban public transport, long-distance transport or taxis is not associated with a higher risk of catching the flu. 

Hand washing and COVID-19 

Instant hand cleaning with a water-soaked wet towel containing 1% soap powder, 0.5% active chlorine or 0.25% active chlorine from sodium hypochlorite killed 98.36%, 96.62% and 99.98% of the hand virus, respectively.

On the other hand, N95 masks, surgical masks and homemade masks made of 4-layer paper and 1-layer fabric could block 99.98%, 97.14% and 95.15% of the virus in aerosols, respectively. The conclusion of the study was that the use of effective masks, in addition to hand hygiene, is the most effective method of stopping the exponential spread of the virus. 


Qing-Xia Ma (2020 Mar) 'Potential utilities of mask-wearing and instant hand hygiene for fighting SARS-CoV-2'. DOI: 10.1002/jmv.25805 

Center for Biomedical Research Network in Epidemiology and Public Health (CIBERESP) and the Center for Respiratory Diseases (CIBERES)

Carlos III Institute of Health (ISCIII) 


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