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Public urged to follow hand washing advice to prevent spread of Coronavirus

28th Feb 2020
Public urged to follow hand washing advice to prevent spread of Coronavirus

Images: combined from a 3D medical animation, depicting the shape of coronavirus as well as the cross-sectional view. (Credit:

As Coronavirus cases, now known as Covid-19, have started to be identified here in the UK it is only natural that we should be concerned about the spread of this virus and what we can do to protect ourselves and limit its transmission.

Advice from healthcare organisations including the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US and our own Public Health England and NHS have all focused on urging the public to wash their hands frequently. This has been identified as the most effective and straightforward way we can protect ourselves and reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Hand-washing is important because germs are easily transferred from unwashed hands to other objects and surfaces such as handrails, door handles, tabletops, etc., which in turn can mean other people touching the object can pick up the virus. Think about a busy tube line, school or office, and you can see how easily a virus can spread. One person who coughs onto their hands, then touches a handrail in a public place can potentially then infect others. By reducing the virus on our hands, we can reduce the number of viruses that gets left in public places for others to pick up and reduce our risk of getting infected if we unwittingly pick the virus up on our hands.

Given that this is the main advice it is important to make sure that we are aware of not only when we should be washing our hands but also how to do it effectively. It seems a straightforward enough request, but according to experts a simple rinse under the tap may not be sufficient to ensure you have cleaned them properly. Guidelines issued by the CDC, WHO and NHS state that you must wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. That doesn’t sound like long, but as a guideline they say roughly the same time it takes to sing ‘Happy birthday’ twice – which is probably longer than many people wash their hands for. Try it next time you wash your hands you will realise it is longer than you think.

In addition to the amount of time needed to ensure you wash your hands thoroughly it is advised you use soap and water when possible and follow these simple steps:

• Wet hands with clean running water
• Apply soap and lather your hands by rubbing them together
• Lather the backs of your hands between the fingers
• Get soap under your nails
• Rinse and scrub hands for at least 20 seconds

While washing your hands with soap and water is the most effective method for killing germs, if you cannot access either, you could use an alcohol-based hand-sanitizer that contains “at least 60 per cent alcohol.” According to some experts rubbing your hands together is an important step as this helps to remove germs from the skin, so if no soap is present make sure you still rub hands together rather than just rinse them.

So when should we be washing our hands? We should all be washing our hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom and before eating or preparing food anyway… in addition, we should wash our hands after blowing our nose, coughing, or sneezing. As viruses and germs can be picked up in public places it would make sense with the new Coronavirus to wash hands where possible after being on public transport (especially at airports), in public places and when we get home from work or school. We should also refrain from rubbing our eyes when out as this can be a route to infection as well.

Good hand hygiene will not only help prevent spread of the Coronavirus but also reduce the spread of coughs, colds, the flu diarrhoea, and other illness so you can stay healthy. Regular hand washing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick and prevent the spread of germs to others. It’s quick, it’s simple and it can keep us all from getting ill. We should all be doing this anyway.
(Photo credit: Iqair CC)

Rachel Kayani

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