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Washing hands

5 ways to stop germs from spreading

How can we stop germs from spreading and stay healthy? Discover our top tips, including our guide on how to wash your hands

There are plenty of simple measures we can take to keep ourselves and others safe. You might find our hand-washing guide useful, check it out now.

“Excellent hygiene is vital to the hospital to keep patients, staff and visitors free from any infection,” says Heather Leslie, director of infection prevention and control at Benenden Hospital. “We have a very good record and have never had a case of an MRSA bacteraemia or E. coli, and our last case of C.difficile was in 2002.”

Read our latest update if you are looking for information on Coronavirus (COVID-19).

How can you stop germs from spreading?

Preventing the spread of bugs is key to Benenden Hospital’s award winning success and using the same principles at home can reduce the chances of illness.

1. Maintain a healthy lifestyle

A healthy diet – at least five portions of fruit or vegetables a day – as well as getting enough sleep and avoiding stress helps your immune system to function properly, meaning you’re less likely to become ill.

2. Avoid contact with infection

Self-isolating if you’re unwell - or avoiding others with colds or gastric infections - is one of the safest ways to stay healthy. People on medication, those who are recovering from illness or surgery, older people and the very young (whose immune systems haven’t fully developed) are all very vulnerable to infections.

A sneeze that’s not captured can travel 30 metres. Bodily secretions, whether through coughing, sneezing or vomiting can be projected onto nearby surfaces and remain active for up to 72 hours. The importance of ensuring good hygiene in times of illness, therefore, is imperative.

3. Wash and dry your hands well and frequently

Hand hygiene is the most effective way of avoiding cross-infection. Around 40% of us have MRSA bacteria on our skin, and we pick up other bacteria all day, so we need to wash our hands well with soap: before food preparation or eating, after going to the toilet, before and after being in contact with anyone who is unwell, and any time we have contact with bacteria, such as when changing cat litter.

Drying hands after washing them well with soap is also vital. Wet hands are as dangerous as dirty hands.

4. Keep your house as clean as possible

Bacteria can remain active on surfaces, so deep, antibacterial cleaning of all surfaces helps to prevent the spread of germs. It is particularly important to clean toilets, bathrooms and kitchens – germs from your toilet can travel six metres if you don’t close the lid before flushing.

Most kitchen cloths are full of bacteria, so use disposable cloths or wash yours at a high temperature and use disinfectant.

While some may argue that a bit of dirt doesn’t harm, it can be very harmful if it’s passed on to someone who is susceptible to illness, such as those with a compromised immune system.

5. Observe food safety rules

Use different chopping boards for raw and cooked meat, and have separate chopping boards for raw vegetables and fruit. Contaminated meat can harbour salmonella, E. coli or campylobacter – the most common cause of food poisoning.

It’s vital to have separate kitchen utensils for raw meat and to keep the meat well wrapped and away from other foods in your refrigerator.

How to wash your hands

Washing your hands is a vital part of infection control. The World Health Organisation recommends washing your hands for 20 seconds. This helps to thoroughly clean them. Good technique can help you prevent the spread of illness, to yourself, loved ones and everyone around you.

1. Wet hands

Wet your hands with warm water, then apply enough liquid soap to create a lather. If you don’t have access to liquid soap, you could also use bar soap (if your bar of soap has been sat in sludge, rinse it off beforehand).

2. Rub hands together

Use one hand to rub the back of the other hand and clean between your fingers. Repeat this on the other hand.

Rub your hands together, palm-to palm, and clean between your fingers again.

3. Interlink your fingers

Link your fingers together, facing each other, into clasped hands. It should look like you’ve made a hammock with your hands. Rub your palms and fingers together.

4. Cup your fingers

Rub the back of your fingers against your palm. Repeat this on the other hand.

5. Thumbs and fingertips

Make a fist around one of your thumbs and rub as you rotate it, then swap hands and repeat.

Rub your fingertips on the palm of your other hand. Make sure to do this on both sides.

6. Rinse and dry

Thoroughly rinse your hands with warm running water. If your taps are automatic, use them as instructed. If not, you can use a disposable paper towel to turn off the tap.

Paper towels are the most hygienic way to dry your hands. If you’re somewhere with an automatic hand dryer, these can also be a good option. This is because you don’t have to touch many automatic hand dryers to use them, decreasing the risk of transferring bacteria. That could risk transferring bacteria from the dryer back onto your hands. Where possible, don’t use a reusable towel to dry your hands. They can harbour bacteria.

Good hand-washing should take 20 seconds. The NHS recommends singing Happy Birthday twice to help you to keep track of the time. Any 20 second song would work here, so you can pick a song that makes your smile.

Do you have concerns about Coronavirus (COVID-19)? Please find our latest update.


About our healthcare

Benenden Health provides affordable private healthcare for everyone, giving you access to services such as our 24/7 GP Helpline and Mental Health Helpline straight away. Once you’ve been a member for six months you can request access to diagnostic consultations and tests, and if needed, treatment and surgery.

You'll also have access to a wealth of health and wellbeing articles, videos and advice on a range of health issues.