Hygiene is everybody

Hygiene is Everyone's Responsibility

Sally Bloomfield


By Professor Sally Bloomfield

Chairman of IFH and Honorary Professor, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK

Infection prevention, which includes the practice of good hygiene, is now seen as the most sustainable approach to preventing infectious disease and tackling the problem of antibiotic resistance. Health authorities are also realizing that preventing infections, including antibiotic resistant infections in hospitals, cannot be achieved without also preventing spread in the community.

Restoring confidence in hygiene

In recent years the public has lost confidence in hygiene, believing that too much cleanliness is bad for our health. The reality is that we need to protect ourselves against infection while also restoring contact with microbes that are vital to our health. This means we need to get smarter, more targeted and more educated about hygiene.

Getting smarter about hygiene

The International Scientific Forum on Hygiene has developed a learning presentation called “Breaking the Chain of Infection” to help understand the basics of how infections spread. We believe this is a great opportunity to set a foundation for understanding about effective hygiene in home and everyday life. The aim of the resource is to provide a visualization of how infections are spread and how hygiene helps to break the chain of infection.

Hygiene and cleanliness Q&A

In some situations, the need for hygiene is obvious such as to prevent spread of germs during handling of food, or whilst using the toilet - or good respiratory hygiene when coughing and sneezing. In some cases, it is less clear cut. Let me share with you questions I often receive and the answers I give to these questions. 

Q. Are hygiene and cleanliness the same thing?

A. No. A surface may look clean but this does not mean it is at a safer germ-level below what our immune system can handle. Hygienic cleaning is something more – it’s cleaning in the right way, at the right moments and all about reducing risk. For example, a used cloth may look clean, but still spreads germs to other surfaces and to the hands. Keeping our homes dirt free helps because germs don’t survive well in clean dry places.

Q. How often should we clean hand contact surfaces?

A. There’s a limit to how often we can hygienically clean hand contact surfaces – that’s why hand hygiene (with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer or hand sanitizing wipes) is so important – hands are the last line of defense. Daily cleaning of door handles, the toilet lever and seat, TV remote, computer key board, phones and toys, etc. can help to reduce the spread of potentially illness-causing germs – particularly where there is norovirus, flu or colds around.

Q. How often should we clean clothing and household linens?

A. Although risks are less than for hands and hand-contact surfaces, clothing and household linens can spread infection. It is impossible to say how often these items should be laundered – not less than once a week is the rule of thumb.

Q. How often should we clean toilets, baths, sinks, etc.?

A. Toilets, baths and sinks should be cleaned as needed – not less than once a week is the rule of thumb – daily is best if there is an illness in the home – or more frequently if there is ongoing sickness and diarrhea.

Q. How often should we clean floors, walls and furnishings?

A. These may look like the dirtiest surfaces in our home, but probably carry the least risk of spread of germs. Regular cleaning of floors is advisable if there is a toddler, and pets in the home – or someone is sick on the floor.  You may also want to have a “no shoes” general rule with dirty feet.

Please visit www.ifh-homehygiene.org and learn more about how together we are breaking the chain of infection.

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