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Ahsen Zafar

Hand Washing – a Handy Weapon

As the world recovers from the Corona Virus, its essential to remember the lessons learnt during this period. One question that is often repeated is, how effective hand washing is if you are self-isolating? Whilst it’s a seemingly innocuous activity, hand washing is surprisingly effective in the fight against Corona.

History of hand washing

Religious rituals for hand washing have been around for centuries, it wasn’t until 1848 that the first medical recorded discovery of hand washing’s power was discovered. Ignaz Semmelweis is widely accredited as the father of hand washing according to Miryam Wahrman, a professor of biology at William Paterson University in New Jersey and author of The Hand Book: Surviving in a Germ-Filled World.

During a childbirth surgery, he observed a doctor dying of the same disease as a patient after cutting himself with a scalpel. Semmelweis hypothesized that particles transmitted on the doctor’s hands might be making their way into the bodies of the women after child birth
leading to a high mortality rate. Semmelweis mandated a policy for the doctors to wash their hands regularly, reducing the mortality rate for new mothers from 18% to 1%.

While Semmelweis passed away in relative ignominy, his theories live on to this day. British surgeon Joseph Lister pioneered antiseptic surgery and by the early 1900s it was standard practice for doctors to wash their hands before and after surgery.

Does soap kill coronavirus?

Coronavirus is an ‘enveloped virus’. This means it has a protective outer layer known as a ‘lipid (or commonly known as fat) bilayer’.

Soap molecules can dissolve the fat membranes, leaving the virus to crash down and disintegrate, thereby making sure you don’t carry it on your hands anymore and the risk of being infected or passing on the virus to someone else has been reduced.

Should I continue to wash my hands even if I am self-isolating?

The NHS has a resoundingly clear message. It is stressed that regularly washing hands with soap and water for over 20 seconds was a deciding factor in stopping the transmission of the
disease. Increasing the frequency of hand washing, especially when you sneeze, cough or leave the house is still the recommended advice from the NHS.

The NHS has put together a helpful list of Do’s and Don’ts to remember:



  • 1. Wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
  • 2. Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • 3. Wash your hands as soon as you get home cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • 4. Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards


  • 1. do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean

According to a GP Dr Adeel Riaz “Hand washing is important in stopping the transmission of the virus. We must continue to make sure we clean our hands regularly with soap, particularly after sneezing or coughing. Maintaining this habit is a quick and easy way to make sure we limit the spread of the virus.”


Most of us today are self-isolating and relying on delivery of essentials. From the milkman to the local grocers or from Amazon to a friendly neighbour. While most delivery men are taking
precautions such as wearing gloves and reducing contact by leaving packages on the front doors, there is still a small risk of infection.

This study https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2004973 shows the virus can survive for over 24 hours on cardboard boxes. You should take care when opening boxes, even if the delivery man was wearing gloves. A relatively easy solution is to leave the box overnight if possible, or wash your hands right after opening it. Take care not to touch anything after you open the delivery.

This advice applies to letters and your regular mail as well. “Washing your hand is a quick and efficient way to keep yourself, your loved ones and by extension, the nation safe”. ‘Dr. Adeel Riaz’.


The COVID-19 virus has left its mark on our society. It’s safe to say that we as a nation have changed and while its hoped that things will go back to normal, it’s still important to keep the
habits and lessons we’ve learnt.

For most of us, handwashing has become by now a habit. Keep this habit. Keep washing & rinsing your hands, every time you cough, sneeze, go outside the house or even before going to eat. Washing your hands is the easiest way for us to break the chain of transmission
of the virus. From the late 1850’s to the modern day, medical advice remains
the same. Washing hands saves lives.



  1. – https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/18/keep-it-clean-the-surprising-130-year-history-of-handwashing
  2. – https://www.sciencefocus.com/news/coronavirus-can-hand-washing-really-stop-the-spread-of-covid-19/
  3. https://patient.info/news-and-features/covid-19-is-hand-washing-still-important-when-youre-self-isolating

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