How to wash your hands!

One of the early medical student days, hidden by the mists of time, I was taught by an Infection Control nurse how to wash my hands. Of course I “knew” how to wash my hands. My Mum had been making me doing it since I learnt how to wipe my bottom. In fact, I had a reasonably good idea from the years of preparing total parenteral nutrition and cytotoxic infusions in hospital pharmacy but that’s a different story.

Back to the mist, as a test we had to wash as normal, and then plate out the hand on an agar filled petri dish. It was shocking to see what grew!

Remember that virus are far too small to be seen and won’t grow as visible colonies amongst the bacteria and moulds on the on agar plate.

Imagine shaking that hand. So maybe a simple social hand wash is not enough to prevent spread of infection.  With the imminent pandemic of coronavirus, everyone is telling you to wash your hands, but do you know how and what to use?

This helpful guide from the World Health Organisation describes the essence of a good hand wash. 


In most cases soap and water is preferable, but if there is none, the alcohol hand rub that contains at least 60% alcohol, is a suitable alternative, especially if it increases the likelihood that something will be done. 

Although, soap and water is better at removing Clostridium spores and non-enveloped viruses such as Norovirus and Rhinovirus. However, 60% alcohol does is effective against enveloped virus like Coronavirus.

Just remember, not to mix your alcohol gel with water!

Now when do you wash your hands? These times seem pretty sensible to me.

Before and after examining a patient makes sens for me as a doctor. But this list also seems pretty sensible.

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet (especially if the world runs out of toilet paper)
  • After changing a nappy and cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, especially if you sneeze or cough into your hand. This about using the cubital fossa (doctor speak for the inside of your elbow)
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage

and maybe even

  • Before or after shaking someone’s hand

hand shake

This article from The Conversation explains why I’m not being rude by not shaking your hand, just protecting you and me from possible infection.


One thought on “How to wash your hands!

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