How Hygiene Is Contributing to Lower Flu Rates in 2021

World Hand Hygiene Day encourages people to wash their hands to help reduce the spread of illness. Hand washing has been proven to effectively prevent disease. When more people do it, they can avoid catching and spreading illnesses ranging from mild colds to a life-threatening case of influenza or COVID-19. That is why people are encouraged to wash their hands and practice hygienic habits to keep themselves and others safe.

Key Highlights

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have been practicing better hygiene. We know, through modern science and research, that hand washing is one of the most important and effective ways to ensure good hygiene and prevent the spread of viruses.

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PRA Health Sciences
PRA Health Sciences

Let’s take a look at what has happened as a result of higher rates of personal hygiene during the pandemic.

Why Is Hand Hygiene Important?

In daily life, people touch a lot of stuff, from dirty phones and door handles to toilets and raw meat. All of these things can put the immune system at risk if people don’t wash the germs away.

Without proper handwashing, it's easy to transfer those germs to other surfaces, including the body. Many people aren’t even aware of how much they touch their faces. Touching the eyes, nose, and mouth especially creates a risk for respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.

When people have bacteria and viruses on their hands and touch other surfaces like countertops, phones, or food, we transfer those germs to those areas. Then, someone else might pick them up, and that’s when disease spreads.

By washing our hands, people show that they care about their health and that of others. Hygiene serves to protect other people in a way that’s second nature to most people.

How Does Hand Hygiene Contribute to Lower Disease Rates?

Most people consider hand washing an act of courtesy and cleanliness, but that doesn’t mean everyone does it. A 2020 CDC survey showed that less than 75% of people washed their hands after experiencing respiratory symptoms or before eating. The numbers were a little higher for other actions, with about 86% washing their hands before preparing food, almost 90% washing after using the bathroom at home, and about 95% after using the bathroom in public. Virtually all of those numbers were lower before the start of the pandemic.

According to the CDC, handwashing reduces respiratory illness by up to 21% and gastrointestinal illness by up to 40%. Additionally, while 1.8 million children under five years old die each year due to diarrhea and pneumonia, hand washing alone can prevent up to one-third of those deaths.

Improved hygiene during the pandemic has also reduced the spread of seasonal illnesses. Since these improved practices, the US has seen fewer cases of the common cold, mononucleosis, bronchitis, strep throat, and influenza. By this point in the season, the numbers typically reach around 130,000 cases of the flu, which can total about 48 million by the end of the season. During the 2021 season, flu cases from September to early February numbered only 1,455.

These numbers show that public health measures and following through with hand hygiene work to help prevent the spread of disease.

Check out PRA’s Bi-Weekly Trend Insights to find out how other diseases have been affected by COVID-19 hygiene practices

There’s a Right Way to Practice Hand Washing

Without correct hand washing techniques, people don’t get the full benefit of the practice. It’s important to wash all areas of the hands, not just the palms. Using soap also plays a critical role due to its hydrophobic and hydrophilic properties, which help it break down bacteria and viruses while allowing them to get washed away.

PRA’s Chief Medical Information Officer, Greg Licholai, demonstrates how to correctly wash hands in this video. Follow these steps to learn the proper handwashing process:

  1. Wet the hands with hot or warm water.
  2. Lather the hands using liquid hand soap or a bar of soap.
  3. Scrub the soap all over the hands. That includes the palms and backs of the hands, between the fingers, under the fingernails, and around the wrists.
  4. Wash the hands for at least 20 seconds. Try singing a song like Happy Birthday to reach the correct amount of time.
  5. Rinse the hands under running water until all the soap is gone.
  6. Dry the hands using a paper towel.

Sticking to these steps will help prevent the spread of illness, protecting individuals, their loved ones, and the public. Evidence shows that these measures work and that the more people who practice good hygiene, the fewer people get sick.

PRA works to create better solutions for public health through digital technology and patient-centric solutions. Part of those solutions includes participating in public health initiatives and encouraging better hygiene practices.

Find out more about how we’re working to keep people healthy

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