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Published: 02 May 2024

Hand hygiene: let’s keep the habit in 2024

World Hand Hygiene Day, Sunday 5 May, is a World Health Organisation (WHO) global awareness day which aims to shine a spotlight on the importance of good hand hygiene.

The focus this year is on promoting and sharing knowledge about hand hygiene. Good hand hygiene is one of the most effective ways of stopping the spread of disease and infection.

“Many viruses and bugs can’t get through your skin but if the bug is on your hand and you touch your eyes, mouth or nose you can catch an infection or pass it on to someone else. This is why hand hygiene plays an important part in stopping the spread of many common infections such as colds, flus and norovirus as well as superbugs that no longer respond to many antibiotics.

It is vitally important that we prioritise hand hygiene, share information, resources and ensure everyone understands how they can contribute to helping reduce the spread of infection in any healthcare setting or in their own homes.”

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

Dr Paul Ryan, a Cork based GP and AMRIC team member highlighted the importance of good hand hygiene for children in particular:

“GPs are on the frontline and understand how difficult it can be to fully prevent the spread of infection. Many parents will identify with the fact that most young children have up to six to ten viral illnesses every year. Good hand hygiene plays a major part in preventing the spread of these childhood illnesses. We want people to keep going with the basics of hand hygiene. Parents should help their children with hand hygiene.”

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 said that they will continue to wash their hands more frequently.

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

Regular hand washing is important, but particularly important at certain times:

  • if you were in contact with someone who has a fever or respiratory symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing) or COVID-19
  • before and after visiting someone in a hospital or residential setting
  • if in contact with a person or an animal with an infection
  • getting 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, handle food or eat food
  • after touching raw meat and poultry
  • after using the toilet and after changing nappies
  • after handling animal waste

Technology Traps

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.

Handle with care

  • The real hygiene risk in the bathroom is not the toilet but the handles and taps
  • Drying your hands with paper towel will reduce the bacterial count by 45 – 60% on your hands.
  • Some hand dryers can increase the bacteria on your hands by up to 255% because they can blow out bacteria already living in the, conveniently, warm moist environment.

Get more information

Access the World Hand Hygiene Day Partner Pack (PDF, 9 pages, 709 KB)

Find more tips on hand hygiene