Are you washing your hands properly?

If you want to avoid catching a viral infection such as a cold, flu or tummy bug, one of the things health experts recommend is to wash your hands frequently.

But according to a new survey from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), more than eight out of 10 adults in this country don’t wash their hands for long enough to kill the germs that cause illnesses.

The survey also found that…

  • Two out of three people don’t always wash their hands before eating.
  • One in two people doesn’t always wash their hands after handling animals, such as pets.
  • One in three doesn’t always wash their hands before preparing food.
  • One in five doesn’t always wash their hands after going to the toilet.

Viruses that cause food poisoning, pneumonia, colds and flu can easily be spread by touch. They can be picked up from contaminated surfaces, objects or people, then passed on to others. But how long should you wash for? The recommended time is 20 seconds, say RPS experts – which is as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.

“We don’t wash our hands often enough for long enough to get rid of the bacteria that can cause illnesses,” says RPS President Ash Soni. “Even when we remain unaffected by the bugs we carry, if we don’t wash our hands we can transmit infections which then become a real problem for those who are more vulnerable, such as children and the elderly.

“We can never know what we are carrying or what impact it may have on those around us, which is why good hand washing is so important. You should avoid touching your mouth or eyes with unclean hands and practice good hand hygiene by regularly washing your hands for 20 seconds before and after eating and after using the toilet or handling animals.”

To watch a video that shows how to wash your hands properly, visit the NHS website.

Resistance threat

Winter is a time when more people ask their GPs for antibiotics for infections, some of which might be prevented by good hand hygiene or treated at an earlier stage by getting advice and medicines from a pharmacist. But prescribing too many antibiotics is a major cause of antibiotic resistance – now a real threat to public health.

Yet the RPS survey discovered four out of 10 people didn’t realise antibiotic resistance is described as bacteria becoming resistant to the drugs used to treat them. This resistance can make infections much more serious, even potentially life threatening. But the rate at which resistant bacteria develop can be slowed by reducing the amount of unnecessary antibiotics used.

“Preventing infection through better hand washing is essential to protect ourselves and others from becoming unwell,” explains Soni. “If we can reduce the number of illnesses where antibiotics are needed, we can reduce antibiotic resistance by saving these important medicines for when they are really required.

Antibiotics should not be given for viral infections but often still are, partly because patients demand them, he adds. One of the reasons some people ask their GPs for antibiotics is because the think they’re not getting better quickly enough. However, some infections may last longer than you may think – here are some average durations of common infections:

  • Sore throat – 7-8 days
  • Ear infection – 8 days
  • Common cold – 14 days
  • Sinusitis – 14-21 days
  • Cough or bronchitis – 21 days

“Your local pharmacist can advise you about the natural course of your infection and the best way to manage it,” says Soni. “Getting the right information can provide reassurance that what you are experiencing is normal, so helping to reduce unnecessary GP appointments and requests for antibiotics.

“Pharmacists can also offer advice on what to do on the occasions when your symptoms don’t clear up and when it’s right to see a doctor. Pharmacies are conveniently located and often open in the evenings and weekends so they are easily accessible too.”

Learn more by having a chat with your local Careway pharmacist (find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder).