Dubai: It takes less than 20 seconds to wash one’s hands with soap and water to prevent the spread of diseases and save lives. Yet, studies have shown that many people still ignore the practice.

Your hands contain an estimated 1,500 bacteria per square centimetre of skin, say Dubai-based experts, and just because you can’t see these germs, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t there.

This is why Global Hand Washing Day returns annually on October 15 to motivate people to support a culture of hand washing with soap in order to combat diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections, which take the lives of millions of children in developing countries every year.

This year’s theme is ‘Our Hands, Our Future’.

Dr Anil Grover, specialist, Internal Medicine, at International Modern Hospital, said good hand-hygiene habits are essential to reducing the spread of germs such as pathogenic bacteria, viruses, fungi and others which cause diseases in humans.

“These germs gain access to the body as they are transferred from person to person or from contact with contaminated surfaces. The most common causes of food-borne diseases and food poisoning are bacteria, viruses and parasites. Reactions to these germs can range from mild gastric discomfort and diarrhoea to death.

“While washing your hands is important, washing alone is not enough to prevent the spread of bacteria and other germs. After washing, you must also dry your hands thoroughly with a clean towel or air dryer,” Dr Grover added.



Dr Rajesh Kumar Gurumoorthy, specialist dermatologist at Aster Clinic, Discovery Gardens, answers everyday questions on the importance of hand washing.

Is the hype about hand washing an overreaction?

Hand washing is the oldest and most simple step to ensure prevention of infections. It is one of the most underrated means of prevention because most people, when asked to wash their hands, ignore [the advice].

On a daily basis, we often touch many things and objects without realising the harm it could do. Doorknobs, tables, bottles, mobile phones ... these all have germs because various people use/touch them. Once a person is infected, it’s only a matter of time before the people around also get infected. Hand washing is definitely the first line of defence against the spread of various infections like the common cold, hepatitis, meningitis, respiratory infections, skin diseases, diarrhoea etc. Hand washing is like self-vaccinating against infectious diseases.

What are the most important situations in daily life when you must wash your hands?

Before and after cooking food.

Before and after eating food.

After using the toilet.

After blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing when you are sick.

After touching or taking out the garbage.

After touching an animal or its feed.

After and before treating a wound.

After cleaning around the house.

After visiting a sick person in the hospital.

After smoking.

It is best to keep your hands clean at all times. At certain times, for instance, if you are down with the flu, carry a tissue/hanky to avoid the spread of germs to your hands and surroundings.

Ordinary soap or medicated soap?

Using a soap is more beneficial than just washing hands with water. It is always recommended to use a liquid soap instead of a bar soap because bar soaps, when used by many people, tend to get infected or its effectiveness wears off. All soaps are equally effective in killing germs, provided proper and effective hand-washing techniques are followed. There is no need to use a specific anti-bacterial or medical soap.

What is the truth about hand sanitisers?

Washing hands using soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes in most situations. In case of non-availability of soap and water, for example, while travelling, hand sanitisers will be of some help. However, hand sanitisers cannot remove all microbes effectively, and are not recommended for infants and children as they tend to put their hands into their mouths and it can lead to alcohol poisoning. Sanitisers cannot remove harmful chemical contaminants from hands whereas washing hands with soap and water is the best thing to do in such situations.

Do hand sanitisers also kill good bacteria and harm skin?

There are two types of bacteria: good bacteria and bad bacteria. The good bacteria are also known as probiotics and protect the body from diseases. It is true that hand sanitisers kill not only the bad but also the good bacteria which live on the skin acting like the first line of defence against germs. Presence of good bacteria is important as they prevent and protect the skin from major injury. Absence of these bacteria on the skin causes skin inflammation. Sanitisers do not necessarily harm the skin, although alcohol-based sanitisers may cause skin irritation in those who have sensitive skin.

What are the dirtiest things we touch on a daily basis?

Sponges used in cleaning utensils.

Mobile phones.

Door knobs and handles.


Remote control.

Laptops, keyboards, telephones.

Hand towels in the bathroom.

Toothbrush holder.