Shaking hands has be a part of human culture in some form for thousands of years. The origin is not clear-cut. Just as unclear is the reason why we shake hands. Most people agree that shaking hands was a way of showing you had no weapons and the actual shaking help to prove you didn’t have anything up your sleeve. Shaking hands is also used as a greeting, to seal a deal and to show affection. The earliest documented depiction of a handshake was found in a ninth-century B.C. stone relief, which shows the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III shaking hands with a Babylonian ruler to seal an alliance. Some cultures don’t shake hands. Some cultures use their left hand. Some cultures use a firm grip while others use a softer touch. Some cultures don’t allow women to shake a man’s hand. We are now at a time in history where we have to question the practice of even shaking hands.
Hand shaking was put on the radar during our previous H1N1 pandemic. From that outbreak we found out that our hands were one of the ways we were spreading the virus. Ironically health care workers were among those most likely to spread germs via their hands. Our doctors and other care workers are the ones tasked with fighting our infections. It wasn’t until the last 50 years that doctors made it standard practice to wash their hands between patients. Even dentist had to change their hand placement when treating patients.
Hand to hand contact doesn’t put only hospitalized patients with weakened immune systems at risk, it also has a much broader impact by contributing to the growth and spread of more serious bacteria and viruses. COVID-19 can be spread from your hands. Touching your hands to your eyes, nose, mouth or ears can expose you to the virus. Your eyes, nose, mouth or ears are a gateway to an infection. Open hand wounds can also present a challenge. This is also a gateway to and infection.
Keeping hands clean through improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Hand washing is one of the best ways to protect yourself, your family and others from getting sick. Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. If clean, running water is not accessible, as is common in many parts of the world use soap and available water. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to clean your hands. A 70% solution of ethyl alcohol kills 95% of all organisms by denaturing their proteins and dissolving their lipids. A 70% solution of ethyl alcohol is effective against most bacteria, fungi and many viruses, but is ineffective against bacterial spores. Only use hand sanitizers that contain ethyl alcohol. Don’t use hand sanitizers that contain methanol or methyl alcohol. Methanol or methyl alcohol is highly flammable and toxic. If you ingest more than 10mL it can cause permanent blindness by destruction of the optic nerve, poisoning of the central nervous system, coma and possibly death. These hazards are also true if methanol or methyl alcohol vapors are inhaled.
The CDC recommends the following procedure to wash your hands:
• Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
• Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
• Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
• Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
• Dry your hands using a clean towel or air-dry them.
The CDC stats show:
• Hand washing with soap could protect about 1 out of every 3 young children who get sick with diarrhea and almost 1 out of 5 young children with respiratory infections like pneumonia.
• Although people around the world clean their hands with water, very few use soap to wash their hands. Washing hands with soap removes germs much more effectively.
• Hand-washing education and access to soap in schools can help improve attendance.
• Good hand washing early in life may help improve your child’s development in some settings.
• Estimated global rates of hand washing after using the toilet are only 19%.
The CDC also recommends you should wash your hands:
• Before, during and after preparing food
• Before eating food
• Before and after caring for someone who is sick
• Before and after treating a cut or wound
• After using the toilet
• After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
• After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
• After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste
• After handling pet food or pet treats
Don’t use a rest room dryer to dry your hands. Rest room dryers spread more germs than paper towel hand-drying. Researchers found that “jet air” dryers had 27 times higher levels of germ spread than paper towel drying. Warm air dryers had 45 times higher levels of germ spread than paper towel drying. Half the bacteria and viruses around dryers remained for five minutes after the units were used. Some germs could still be detected after 15 minutes.
If you wash your hands with soap and water you will remove more disease causing organisms than if you wash your hands with water alone. If you find that your soap causes skin irritation change it. All soaps have a different pH level. Find one that is neutral. Soaps that are alkaline, acidic, contain dyes or have perfumes can cause irritation. Changing your soap will help. It’s better to use liquid soap than bar soap, especially at work. Bar soap is better than no soap. Antibacterial soap is unnecessary and does not offer any advantage over regular soap.
You should use running water. Warm water is better than cold for hand washing. Soap lathers better with warm water. Cold water and soap are still good. Remember hot water can damage your skin’s natural oils. Over time, this can cause dermatitis.
Remember parents, your child may have the cutest face but they have the dirtiest hands. Get them to wash their hands even more often.