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Digestive-Health

15 October 2020

A few scrubs a day keep disease at bay

Keeping our hands clean is essential at all times, not just during a pandemic. A pathology expert tells us why.

  • On Global Handwashing Day, people all over the world are encouraged to wash their hands regularly 
  • Research has shown that handwashing does save lives
  • Health24 asked an expert a number of important questions about handwashing


The importance of hand hygiene made headlines with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. "Wash your hands" and "sanitise" have become mantras during the pandemic.

Yet, preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus is not the only reason why we should be practising good hand hygiene. 15 October is Global Handwashing Day, a campaign initiated to encourage people around the world to wash their hands. While the task of washing hands may seem mundane, research has shown that it does in fact save lives. 

Critical questions 

Dr Susan Louw is a specialist in Haematological Pathology and is in charge of the NHLS (National Health Laboratory Service) Coagulation laboratory. Dr Louw provided the answers to some  crucial questions around hand hygiene. 

1. Are there any long-term health-related benefits to handwashing?

The most important benefit is the prevention of communicable diseases including vomiting and diarrhoea, respiratory tract infections and additional infections such as Hepatitis A, which causes liver disease.

2. A commonly held idea around health is that immunity to communicable diseases can be acquired through being less hygienic. Is this true, in any way, with regard to hand hygiene?

No, it’s not. Meticulous hand hygiene can prevent communicable diseases.

3. What advice can you offer people living in under-resourced areas (i.e. where water is not easily accessible) on how to keep their hands clean?

Clean running water is essential for a healthy living. Get a lobby group going and approach local municipal representatives. Companies such as Dettol have also come up with innovative products such as handwashing stations which offer running water operated by a foot pump

4. Are long nails less hygienic?

Yes, the area under the nails is a sanctuary for microorganisms and is a site which is often neglected when washing hands.

5. Would you suggest that people remove their rings when washing their hands?

Yes, and both the hands and rings need to be dried thoroughly before putting the rings on again.

6. Hand sanitiser is a common alternative to washing hands with soap and water, yet it can be very drying and people tend to moisturise their hands after sanitising. Does this counter the effectiveness of the sanitiser? 

Let the hand sanitiser dry completely before applying moisturiser. Hand sanitiser followed by moisturisation is better than no sanitisation.

7. Diarrhoea is one of the leading causes of death in children under five in South Africa. What can parents and caretakers do to ensure that young children consistently practise good hand hygiene?

Lead by example, be consistent, make it fun (sing a song for example) and reward good behaviour.

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