Apr 11, 2020

The evolution of hand hygiene

From years back to the present day hygiene has always been an important aspect for survival. It plays a vital role in preventing the spread of various viruses, infections, bacteria and diseases. In the modern era, hygiene is very important for good heath and well being. The first and foremost link between health and hand washing was made around two centuries ago when Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor who is also known as the father of hand hygiene, showed the importance of washing hands to the school kids before lunch. He was working in Vienna General Hospital where he once in 1940s explained to the school children that to prevent the infections and diseases it is very important to wash their hands especially before having lunch.

When soap and water was the only method for hand hygiene for more than 2000 years, in 20th century hand sanitizers were designed to reduce the viruses and bacteria on our hands. This innovation which was carried out in the 20th century lead to the development of alcohol based hand sanitizer which usually kills almost all types of the bacteria.

How hand hygiene has shaped history?

Here we have mentioned three important hand hygiene moments from the past that paved the way for today’s hand hygiene.

1. Hand hygiene and the religion:

Washing hands with clean water before paying homage to the Almighty is a critical part of all the religions worldwide. Almost all the religious leaders across has at some point established a clear link between cleanliness and spiritual purity. Many saints in particular bathe before offering prayers to the deities is an apt example of systematic hygiene practices in action.

2. Hand hygiene and the science:

In 16th century, a physician named Girolamo Fracastoro came up with a groundbreaking idea that infection can be transmitted from one person to another via hands and surfaces such as clothes. This revolutionary idea then lead to the creation of germ theory in 19th century which identifies microorganisms as the cause of many diseases. This was enough to kick start the whole process of creation of modern hygiene practices conducive to maintaining health and prevent disease, especially through cleanliness.  

Germ theory and the then developed practical hygiene practices are the two fundamental building blocks of hygiene in modern society.

3. Now when hand hygiene became quick and simple:

Germ theory developed in the past helped in better understanding of how diseases work. Through there working it became all the more easier to treat them by focusing on ways to stop them from spreading through the use of synthetic chemistry. Therefore, in a time when soap and water was the only hygiene product for more than 2000 years, 20th century saw the birth of cleansers and sanitizers designed to reduce microbes carried by the skin, our hands in particular.

Why hand hygiene?

Hygiene plays a vital role in ones life. There are still many challenges that need to overcome to avoid diseases in future. In a recent research of health professionals it was found that most of the micro bacterias are countered to our body by our hands. It means that we need to find out ways to get maximum protection from germs and bacteria.

Hand washing with soap or sanitizing with an alcohol based hand sanitizer removes germs from hands. This helps prevent illnesses and spread of infections to others because:

  • People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it. Germs can get into the body through the eyes, nose and mouth and make us sick.
  • Germs from unwashed hands can get into foods and drinks while people prepare or consume them. Germs can multiply in some types of foods or drinks, under certain conditions, and make people sick.
  • Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, like handrails, table tops, or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands.

Removing germs by maintaining hand hygiene therefore helps prevent diarrhea and respiratory infections and may even help prevent skin and eye infections. In the year 2002, the term hand washing was replaced by hand hygiene. It includes proper hand cleansing, surgical hand scrub and hand disinfecting. Many individuals now use hand sanitizers for cleaning their hands and for the prevention of various germs and bacteria.

In healthcare sector the principle of "Clean Hands are the Healing Hands" is very powerful and influential concept that aims to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases to health care workers.