Press release

HSE highlights the importance of getting back to basics with hand hygiene on World Hand Hygiene Day

Published: 3 May 2024

Ahead of World Hand Hygiene Day (Sunday, 5 May), the HSE points to basic hand hygiene as one of our best defences against infection and disease.

This global awareness day shines a spotlight on the importance of good hand hygiene. The focus this year is on promoting and sharing knowledge about hand hygiene. Why is this so important? Because it is the single most important way to help prevent the spread of infection in a healthcare setting or at home. 

Dr Eimear Brannigan, HSE Clinical Lead for Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control (AMRIC) explains, “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 infections including superbugs that no longer respond to many antibiotics.”

It is vitally important that we prioritise hand hygiene, share information and 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 Paul Ryan, a Cork based GP and AMRIC team member says, “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, and as many as 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 keeping their hands clean.”

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 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 centimetre squared, a keyboard has 511 and the mouthpiece of a telephone has 3,895.
  • Make sure you clean your tech equipment even if you are working from home. And remember to clean your hands.

Handle with care

  • The real hygiene risk in the bathroom is not the toilet but the handles and taps
  • Drying your hands with a 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.

World Hand Hygiene Day is a World Health Organisation 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.

Have a look at the video on proper hand washing. We often think we have washed our hands properly but look at this short experiment and you will be surprised.

Learn some tips on hand hygiene

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