According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, washing of hands and wearing of masks, gloves and scrubs are two of the most effective methods in the prevention of the spread of pathogens and, consequently, of infections.
When applied in the right manner in the right places at the right time, both practices can significantly lessen the incidence of infections.
How are these methods effective in this manner? Keep in mind that pathogens (i.e., bacteria, viruses and germs) can be transmitted from an infected person to a non-infected individual in one of three main ways:
• Via direct physical contact as in the case of impetigo;
• Via the fecal-oral route such as in cases of hepatitis, typhoid fever, and cholera;
• Via droplets in the air, which have been emitted primarily through sneezing, such as in cases of influenza, chickenpox and tuberculosis.
Washing your hands then lessens your risks for transmitting and/or pathogens via direct physical contact and via fecal-oral route. Think of hand washing as a protective physical barrier against the transmission of germs.
This also applies to wearing masks, gloves and scrubs especially in medical situations where the risks of infections are high. Such protective gear prevents the transmission of pathogens both ways – from the wearer to the patient and from the patient to the wearer.
This is exactly the reason why you will be required to wear a protective mask after a major surgery to lessen your risks for infections. In turn, your medical service providers (i.e., nurses and doctors) will wear masks, scrubs and gloves to avoid passing on pathogens to you as well as to lessen their risks of contracting whatever infectious illness you may have while on treatment.
In everyday situations, however, hand washing is still considered one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of infections.
You must do it before preparing food, eating meals and snacks, and before caring for a sick individual, among others. You must also do it after preparing food, using the toilet, touching animals including their toys, treating sick individuals, and handling garbage, to name a few.
You should even wash your hands even when these look clean! Germs are invisible to the naked eye, after all. Furthermore, clean running water and soap are still the best materials to wash your hands but alcohol and antiseptic hand washes will do. The most important thing is to know how to wash your hands in an effective manner.