For many healthcare workers, hand washing has become automatic since we know that maintaining proper hand hygiene is important to preventing the spread of infectious disease. With continued reminders from Infection Control staff combined with the constant watchful eye of peers, healthcare workers are more self-aware that hand hygiene should be practiced as needed. If you know you are doing a proper job at washing your hands at work, how would you rate your performance when it comes to practicing hand hygiene at home? Do the rest of your family members, especially children, wash their hands regularly?
During a study conducted by Nicas and Best at Berkley University, they were able to quantify the amount of times people touch their face with their hands. By observing ten students for three hours, Nicas found that these subjects touched their face 15.7 times per hour on average. If we assume that individuals are awake for 16 hours on average, we are estimating that people touch their own face at least 250 times per day. Although we weren’t able to verify the following, the Hollywood movie Contagion made a bold claim that we touch our face at least two to three thousand times per day. The actual number is not that important because whether we are aware of our actions or not, most of us can agree that we touch our face with our hands frequently enough. The important matter to consider is what our hands have been touching prior to our hands touching our face. When you ask yourself this question, it becomes easier to see why we get sick at times.
Imagine for a moment that you are able to record a full day of your actions from the moment you wake up to the time you fall asleep. Better yet, let’s reflect on what you did when you woke up yesterday morning. To give you an idea of my prior morning, I was woken by the alarm clock at 6am and I hit the snooze. Several minutes later, I turned off the alarm clock, checked my phone for messages, turned on the TV for my morning news, started brewing my coffee and finally hit the shower. It hasn’t even been 5 minutes from the time I awoke and I already touched 5 different objects that I can recollect. I can’t even remember if I touched my face prior to washing up. Here’s some food for thought: When’s the last time you cleaned or disinfected your alarm clock, phone, or remote control? If we track things we touch during the middle of the day, the knowledge alone is enough to give us germ phobia. The point of this is not to disinfect everything you own, but to be aware that even in our homes we are exposed to germs in places we don’t realize. Understand that it is unavoidable to be in contact with germs in our daily lives; however, we can practice good hand hygiene to prevent contraction of harmful viruses and bacteria.
Luckily, the human body has an amazing defense mechanism against harmful pathogens. Our skin is the ultimate first line of defense while our white blood cells are like cavalry coming to the rescue. Unfortunately, there are a lot of areas on our face that does not have the protection of skin such as the eyes, nostrils, and mouth. For this reason, the face is more susceptible to contracting the flu or common cold virus. There’s a reason to every wise proverb and our parents pestering us to wash our hands before dinner is not for naught.
Most importantly, I feel it is our duty to set the right example for our friends and family when it comes to hand washing regularly and properly. If you have children in the household is even more important to set the right example because children are known to mimic adults. Let’s start a good habit of washing hands. As for your friends, don’t be shy about checking to make sure their hands are clean. Asking someone if they washed their hands is not uncouth, it is caring. Checking to see if someone washed their hands will benefit not only that person, but you and your family.
Hand Hygiene References
- Nicas, M. A study quantifying the hand-to-face contact rate and its potential application to predicting respiratory tract infection. Journal of Occupational and Enviornmental Hygiene. June 2008; 5(6):347-52.
- Macias, A. Controlling the novel A (H1N1) influenza virus: don’t touch your face!. Journal of Hospital Infection. 2009: 73, 280-291. August 20, 2009.