By now, we know washing hands with soap and water to be one of our best defenses against infecting oneself and others with the novel Coronavirus. According to experts, until a vaccine is in sight, simple acts of appropriate hand hygiene is a habit that can go a long way in keeping communities healthy.
Years of research have shown that regularly washing hands with soap and water, as advised by public health authorities, is highly effective against the spread of germs.
In India, which has been combating open defecation with on-ground intervention and positive messaging in some regions, washing hands regularly - or at least after defecating as well as before and after having/preparing food - has been an encouraged practice. What's needed is acceleration and wider adoption on a socio-behavioral level now.
It must massively be ramped up in these times, to better protect individuals and community.
"Coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV-2 (the virus responsible for COVID-19) is an enveloped virus. Enveloped viruses have a jacket made up of lipids and proteins that allows them to exist and helps them to enter human cells. These viruses can easily enter our system when we touch our face. Enveloped viruses are great at sticking to our skin as well because their outer coating interacts with our skin's surface and allows germs to bind like glue. So it's important to break them away from the skin and wash them away," Samir Singh, Global EVP, Skin Cleansing at Unilever told IANSlife.
That's where soap and water come in. Water alone cannot effectively break this interaction but washing your hands using soap and water has a dual effect. Soap cleverly targets and interferes with the enveloped virus' outer membrane so it cannot bind to the skin and then the water simply washes the virus away from your body and down the sink, he added. Unilever's Lifebuoy large-scale behavioral change program on hand washing has reached a billion people since 2010.
Handwashing is a simple act but an important action that can make a very big impact. Surface-to-skin or skin-to-skin transfer of viruses, such as the novel Coronavirus, or any germ for that matter, can be greatly reduced by the simple act of handwashing with soap and water. Needless to say, it will translate into lesser infections, better health and quality of life.
"In fact, until the world develops a vaccine, washing hands with soap and water (for 20 seconds) and using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is one of the best ways people can protect themselves," says the expert.
As far as the economics behind this healthy move go, a bar or bottle of soap is widely available, portable and affordable which makes it perfect for countries like India. The use of hand sanitisers has also seen a major uptick recently.
"As the world changes to better manage the health impact of COVID-19, it is important that people remember that we can all play our part and personal hygiene starts with all of us. Washing our hands often, carefully and with soap is one of the most important steps we can take right now to slow down the spread and protect ourselves and our communities," said Singh.
Due to the global pandemic the world has changed, and we know that good handwashing habits have never been more important. We hope that these habits will stick with people for years and generations to come, he concluded.
(Siddhi Jain can be contacted at [email protected])