Wash your hands, live longer

As the coronavirus circles the globe, the only thing spreading faster is disinformation on so-called "social media".  In addition to ridiculous conspiracy theories, quack preventions range from the ineffective to the downright dangerous.  It is worth noting that some of the most effective advice, washing your hands, is available on low-tech posters hanging on the wall.

Knowledge of the link between hand hygiene and mortality pre-dates modern understanding of bacteria and viruses.  Using data and a scientific approach of careful comparison and elimination, Ignaz Semmelweis showed in 1847 that making medical staff wash their hands markedly reduced mortality in a Viennese maternity hospital.  Semmelweis unfortunately suffered for his insights because he couldn't explain the causal mechanism; for this the world had to wait until the germ theory of disease from Louis Pasteur.

From combating bacterial infection in 19th century Vienna we fast forward to viral infection in the 21st century.  We start in the Netherlands, where Tuladhar et al (2015) examined a wide variety of viral infections and found that:

"Washing hands with soap and water is better than using alcohol-based hand disinfectants in removing noroviruses from hands."

Tuladhar et al (2015).

 

In Japan Hirose et al (2019) investigated the effectiveness of two hand-hygiene regimes against influenza A.  As with Tuladhar et al (2015), they found that hand washing, as opposed to rubbing with ethanol gel, was more effective against the virus; what was new was a detailed examination of the physical reasons for this (somewhat yuckily, it is the hydrogel nature of sputum).  The message is clear: the bar of soap in your washroom is a critical defence against a wide variety of baterial and viral infections.

Wash your hands and live longer.

References

Hirose, R., Nakaya, T., Naito, Y., Daidoji, T., Bandou, R., Inoue, K., Dohi, O., Yoshida, N., Konishi, H. and Itoh, Y. (2019) Situations leading to reduced effectiveness of current hand hygiene against infectious mucus from influenza virus-infected patients, mSphere, 4(5), doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00474-19.

Tuladhar, E., Hazeleger, W. C., Koopmans, M., Zwietering, M. H., Duizer, E., Beumer, R. R. (2015) Reducing viral contamination from finger pads: handwashing is more effective than alcohol-based hand disinfectants, Journal of Hospital Infection, 90(3):226-34, doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2015.02.019.

 

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Stephen Richards
Stephen Richards is the Managing Director of Longevitas