NPS reminds consumers: wash your hands


Ahead of next week’s Antibiotic Awareness Week, NPS MedicineWise is giving consumers a common-sense reminder: wash your hands.

During the global Week, NPS MedicineWise will remind Australians that regular hand washing is an important part of preventing illness and stopping the spread of infection-causing bacteria—and that less bacterial infection can reduce the need for antibiotics.

It also plans to highlight that using antibacterial soaps may not be the best approach.

NPS MedicineWise medical adviser Dr Jeannie Yoo says that regular hand washing using simple soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on hands, in most situations.

“Although the soap and water doesn’t kill them, washing your hands using the correct technique for at least 30 seconds physically removes the majority of bacteria and other germs from your skin,” she says.

If soap and water are not available, the next best option is an alcohol-based sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol.

President of the Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control, Professor Ramon Shaban says that hand washing is a highly effective way to prevent the spread of communicable diseases that are spread by contact, such as diarrhoeal and respiratory infections.

“There is strong evidence that hand washing and hand hygiene is effective in reducing the spread of organisms that cause infection and disease. Removing the organisms using soap and water, and in some instances destroying them with alcohol-based hand rub solutions, is fundamental to breaking the chain of infection and to ensuring good health for individuals and communities,” he says.

Antibacterial hand soaps have become commonly available in recent years but emerging evidence now shows that antibacterial chemicals can affect the balance of bacteria in your gut, and also may make bacteria more resistant to some antibiotics.

Resistance to common antibacterial ingredients such as triclosan and triclocarban—and cross-resistance to antimicrobials have been consistently demonstrated in laboratory settings.

The benefits of antibacterial hand soaps have also been called into question following the ban by the US Food and Drug Administration on antibacterial agents triclosan and triclocarban from over-the-counter antibacterial hand and body washes in September 2016.

“There is little evidence that the addition of antibacterials to over-the-counter soaps and other types of cleaners wards off infection better than regular neutral soap,” says Dr Yoo.

“Although antibacterial hand soaps contain low concentrations of ingredients that can kill bacteria, they are only effective when used during long washes of over 30 seconds, multiple times a day, and for days at a time. But we know that most people only wash their hands for a few seconds.

“By going overboard and trying to establish a sterile environment we may actually be increasing the population of bacteria that are highly resistant to antibacterials and, possibly, to antibiotics.

“This Antibiotic Awareness Week, we want people to think of antibiotics as a precious resource, and to do everything they can—such as good old-fashioned hand washing with plain soap and water—to prevent infections in the first place.”

To find out more, and to access resources so you can get involved in this year’s Antibiotic Awareness Week, go to nps.org.au/aaw2016

NPS MedicineWise has also published a one-minute video, ‘Six steps to clean hands’, available on its YouTube channel.

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