Published: 05 May 2023

Hand hygiene: let’s keep the habit in 2023

Friday 5 May is the World Health Organisation’s Hand Hygiene Day.

In recent years, Hand Hygiene Day was marked in the midst of a global pandemic and a very different way of delivering health services. Whilst COVID-19 is still very much a challenge for health services, we are moving into a phase where we need to go back to basics when it comes to infection prevention and control.

#BacktoBasics is a key message this year for Hand Hygiene day. Put simply, proper hand hygiene is the most important tool in reducing healthcare associated infection and in keeping our patients, ourselves and our colleagues safe from cross infection.

"We know that since the COVID-19 pandemic a lot of people are very aware of the importance of hand hygiene and are cleaning their hands regularly. Many viruses and bugs can’t get through your skin but if the bug is on your hand when you put your hand to your eye, mouth or nose you can catch infection. This is why hand hygiene plays an important part in stopping the spread of COVID-19 infection, as well as preventing many other infections that are still out there.”

Dr Eimear Brannigan, HSE Clinical Lead for Antibiotic Resistance and Infection Control

According to research undertaken by the Department of Health throughout the pandemic, 96% of people washed their hands more often as a result of COVID-19. 90% of people say that they will continue to wash their hands more frequently.

Dr. Brannigan highlighted the importance of maintaining these good hand hygiene habits beyond the pandemic:

“I would encourage all staff working across the health services to keep up the good work in relation to hand hygiene. This will also have benefits in preventing the spread of antibiotic resistant infections. Having sanitiser and access to washing facilities will make it easier for service users, staff, students and visitors to maintain their good hand hygiene habits.”

Dr. Edel Doorley, Dublin based GP and AMRIC team member, highlighted the importance of good hand hygiene for children in particular:

"Many parents will identify with the fact that their young children have not had the 6 - 10 viral illnesses they normally get every year. Hand hygiene plays a major part in this. We want people to keep on going with their hand hygiene, help your children to learn good hand hygiene and help us to stop the spread of COVID-19 and other infections."

Help protect yourself and your family from an infection or superbug

Wash your hands properly and often, especially:

  • after coughing or sneezing
  • before and after preparing food and eating
  • after using the toilet or changing a child’s nappy
  • if you were in contact with someone who has COVID-19, fever or respiratory symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing)
  • before and after being in a crowd (especially an indoor crowd)
  • on entering and before leaving buildings, including your home or anyone else's home
  • after touching animals or animal waste
  • before and after visiting someone in a hospital or residential setting

Regular use of a hand moisturiser will protect your hands from the drying effects of hand hygiene products. If you have dry skin or a skin condition, apply moisturiser after washing and drying your hands.

We often think we have washed our hands properly, but that isn’t always the case.

Watch what happens when clean hands get tested for bacteria

Watch a video on proper hand washing

Tips for stopping infections spreading at home

The goal is to find a good balance between keeping your hands clean when it’s most important without limiting your enjoyment of life.

Particularly important times to wash your hand are:

  • when you have been in contact with a person or an animal with an infection
  • when you get back to your home from being out and about or at work, especially if your work involves a lot of contact with people or animals
  • before starting to prepare or handle food
  • after touching raw meat including poultry
  • before eating food
  • after using the toilet and after changing nappies

Clean your equipment

Computers, phones and mobiles are a constant in our lives, we can’t work without them. But how clean are they? Research has shown that PCs, keyboards, phones are full of bacteria – a mouse has an average of 260 bacteria per square centimetre, a keyboard has 511 and the mouthpiece of a telephone has an impressive 3,895! Make sure you clean your equipment even if you are working from home. And remember to clean your hands frequently.

Watch out for handles, taps and air hand dryers

The real danger is not the toilet but the handles and taps. Don’t touch the toilet seat with your hands if it’s visibly dirty. Our skin acts as a protective barrier when we use the toilet - it is the largest organ in the human body. Drying your hands with paper towel will reduce the bacterial count on your hands by 45 to 60%. However, using some hand dryers can increase the bacteria on your hands by up to 255% because they can blow out bacteria already living in the warm, moist environment.

Get more information

Access the World Hand Hygiene Day Partner Pack (PDF, 9 pages, 1,203 KB)

Find more tips on hand hygiene

Access a teaching and learning resource for bacteria on Ebug

Ebug is a teaching and learning resource for schools, colleges and parents. You can find out about bugs through quizzes, games and home science experiments.