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Written by By Dr. Ajay Hotchandani   
Thursday, 17 July 2014 00:00

The Doctor’s Orders

Back to basics – Washing Hands

The history of medicine is a peculiar one.  In the 18th/19th century one could argue that a large number of advances in medicine occurred as a result of data mining.  Keys to the advancements were based on observation and the gathering of data.   The basic concept of washing hands lead to a reduction in the spread of an infection was first proposed in 1847. Before it was proposed, the researcher had to have noticed that hand washing, or the absence of hand washing, was the key difference between the numbers of people dying on the obstetric ward.  Before a physician can treat you, they must know what they are treating, and this is determined by gathering data.

In the past week I’ve been called to consult on several cases presenting with the same symptoms of nausea, mild diarrhea, vomiting and lethargy (feeling tired).  The overall presentation has been so mild in most cases, that the patients were able to attend to their daily activities, including work.  While employers may find the news of their employees being able to continue working, as it reduces sick days and lost work time, as a positive occurrence, in the grand scheme of things one can argue that it may be counterproductive. 

Most gastrointestinal infections (stomach bugs) are transmitted from person to person via contact and ingestion of the infectious agent- contaminated hands, surfaces, objects and food.  The simplest way to reduce or prevent transmission is to be vigilant in maintaining proper hand hygiene.  Places of employments, restaurants, and homes where someone may be symptomatic should ensure that the basic availability of clean water, soap and a drying agent (paper towels or hand dryer) are available to help prevent the spread of the infectious agent.  Earlier I mentioned employees not feeling sick enough to stay home, even though mildly symptomatic they may be considered a “carrier”, thereby unintentionally spreading the “bug”.  

In the absence of access to clean water and soap an alternative is hand sanitizers.  Hand sanitizers are often alcohol based gel that help combat the spread of infectious diseases.  Most people tend to have travel size bottles either on them or in their car.  Nowadays you can get them in different scents that often leave people smelling like a fruit salad or baked goods.  Some things you should know about hand sanitizers:

• If your hands are visibly dirty, you must wash with soap and water first
• Apply enough sanitizer to cover all surfaces of your hands and rub until dry
• It is flammable, so use with caution around an open flame (mainly applies to people working in restaurants and kitchens).
• Limit use in kids who may place their fingers in their mouth.
Helping to curb the spread, wiping down toys and surfaces that kids tend to come in contact with or may place in their mouth is recommended.  You don’t necessarily need to use harsh concentrated chemicals for this; a simple solution of warm water and soap should do the job.  Often times it takes just one person in the family to be sick before it unavoidably spreads to everyone. 
Whether it is at work or at home, the simple act of proper hand hygiene can significantly help reduce the transmission of infectious agents and improve health. 
If there are any questions or a health topic you would like to be seen addressed please feel free to contact me via facebook.