Global Handwashing Day 2014

15 Oct 2014

It might seem like a simple part of your everyday life, but washing your hands thoroughly is probably your best defence against getting ill – and slowing antibiotic resistance.

Bacteria in the (UV) Spotlight

To show the importance of hand washing, we made a trip to King’s College London this week to find out what kinds of germs we are carrying round with us every day. Dr Paul Long, Microbiologist and Reader in Pharmacognosy at King’s College London, took swabs from 10 volunteers and analysed the bacteria he found on their hands.

Dr Long explains the findings: Our results turned up the usual suspects – staphylococci, streptococci and coryneform bacteria that are found on all of our hands, but there was a surprise; we also found E. coli which is a bacterium usually found in our guts. The only way this bug can stay on your hands is if you don’t wash your hands either after using the toilet, changing a baby’s nappy or handling uncooked food. E. coli is a particular worry because it is now the most common disease causing bug that is increasingly resistant to antibiotics in the UK.”

It is an easy journey for dangerous bacteria from your hands to your mouth (make sure you wash your hands before eating) which could mean you get ill very easily if you are carrying certain strains of E. coli. E. coli is the bacteria that causes food poisoning – as you may have experienced, this can make you very unwell, and in some extreme cases can cause death. The more that E. Coli is allowed to spread, the more likely it is to pick up resistance to antibiotics from other already-resistant E. Coli.

Help in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Longitude Prize is looking for an easy way to detect bacterial infections and help prescribe antibiotics more accurately, meaning bacteria have less chance to spread and develop resistance to antibiotics. While a diagnostic could have a massive impact on antibiotic resistance, it is just one way we can target antibiotic resistant bacteria more effectively. Washing your hands and general hygiene are simple and effective ways you can get involved in helping to slow antibiotic resistance – cleanliness and meticulousness are the best ways to ensure bacteria don’t have an environment to thrive in and pass on resistance to other bacteria.

Today is Global Handwashing day – help the fight against antibiotic resistance and give your hands a good wash.

Handy handwashing facts:

1) There is a recommended way to wash your hands – the WHO has a guide on how to do this effectively

2) Washing your hands should take as long as singing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice through.

3) Using cold water to wash your hands is fine – hot water uses more energy and there is no evidence that hot water kills more germs

4) Trusty soap and water are the best way to kill off germs – Alcohol-based sanitisers are the next best if you don’t have any soap.

5) Using Antibacterial Soap could lead to increased antibiotic resistance in the bacteria you are trying to kill and is no better than normal soap.