Academic: Importance of hand hygiene in the light of COVID-19 prevention

Jun 5, 2020, 12:21 PM | Article By: Maimuna Sowe

Introduction: Hand hygiene is probably the most important measure that an individual can adopt in the attempt to prevent, or at least minimize the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), infection.

At present COVID-19 has spread worldwide virtually affecting almost all regions in the world, causing panics and taking lives and livelihoods of many people. The speed of the spread of the virus and the alarming death rates have been seen in many countries, hence jurisdictions have introduced measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Among the measures include regular hand washing which has received considerable attention during the pandemic. It is a simple, effective less expensive and a primary preventive measure that most people can do independently. Our hands are a critical vector for transmitting microorganisms, the cross-transmission of these organisms to others occurs when hand hygienic measures fail to be observed effectively.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has seen a focus of education and information on hand washing aimed both at people working within the health sector as well as the general public. There has been a proliferation of public health messages through various sources about the importance of hand washing, and the correct techniques for hand washing. According to many researches, hand hygiene has been proven to be very effective in preventing infectious disease spread for many years ago and now evident in the current COVID-19 pandemic.


It is highly likely that in our day to day life, our hands will come into contact with surfaces that are contaminated with the COVID-19 virus and thus become contaminated. This then raises the possibility that the virus is transfer to the face and it is then able to enter the body through the nose, mouth and eyes and cause infection. What is important, therefore, is that the hands are regularly decontaminated. Considerable experience in hand hygiene exists within the healthcare sector and this should form the basis of hand decontamination among the general public.

There are two main approaches to hand hygiene, the first being the removal of the virus and the second is the inactivation of the virus such that even if transferred it can cause no harm.

Hand washing

Hand washing aims to remove the virus from the skin. To achieve this it must be done in such a manner that the removal is complete. So hand washing technique must be of a high standard. Much attention has been given to the correct application of the soap and water. Relatively little attention has been given to the process of rinsing the skin, yet if this is not done properly a soap residue will remain on the skin and contribute to skin damage. Furthermore, incomplete rinsing will result in active viruses remaining on the hands thus largely negating the whole process. The same technique as used for the application of the soap should be applied when rinsing the hands.

Alcohol sanitizer

The alcohol sanitizing rub, if correctly formulated, can inactivate the COVID-19 virus. And studies in healthcare have shown that it can be more effective than hand washing. It is quick and simple to apply and does not require the availability of a hand wash basin. This makes it easier to use as and when needed. Personal issue applicators for alcohol sanitizer are available so that anyone can have immediate access whenever required. Furthermore, in contrast to hand washing, the alcohol sanitizer has been shown not to cause skin damage as the formulation allows the inclusion of moisturizing elements. Some studies have even shown that it can actually assist in maintaining a high standard of skin condition.

However, alcohol sanitizing rub has its limitations. If hands are visibly soiled with organic matter this will inactivate the alcohol. So hand washing becomes the essential alternative. One objection to alcohol sanitizer is that it sometimes stings when applied. This is not because it is damaging to the skin. If alcohol sanitizer is applied to skin that is damaged, even if this damage is not yet visible, it can reach nerves in the skin and trigger the stinging sensation. Ongoing use of the sanitizer will help restore skin condition so that sensation will disappear. This should be explained when someone is first starting to use the alcohol sanitizer.


To ensure and reinforce effective hand hygiene, hand washing facilities and soap, water supply information and materials are needed, which requires a strong coordination between health workers, community volunteers and NAWEC (Water supply), but most importantly compliance by the general public

The significant growth of interest in promoting hand washing behaviours since the start of COVID-19 pandemic should be harnessed and continued well after this outbreak is contained. Moreover the promotion of hand hygiene should continue with the same enthusiasm and commitment not only within the health care arena but widely throughout communities and populations.


Alzyood, M., Jackson,d., Aveyard,H., & Brooke,J.(2020).Article in Journal of clinical nursing.COVID?19 reinforces the important of hand washing.

Packham, C., & Services, E.(2020). Hand hygiene for infection prevention against COVID-19.

State of Qatar, Ministry of Public Health COVID-19 – Guidance for the Public for Hand Hygiene and Using gloves.