The World Health Organization’s Clean your Hands campaign, which took place on 5 May, by making what is invisible – visible, was recently supported by Public Health England (PHE).
Our hands touch hundreds, possibly thousands of surfaces each day and play a key role in spreading bacteria and viruses, some of which may be harmful to health. Scientists have termed the means to which these bacteria cause illness as the ‘faecal-oral’ route of transmission. This quite simply is when we touch surfaces and then put our hands, and the bugs – including ones that are found in human faeces – into our mouths.
Bacteria from faeces are spread around when people don’t wash their hands after using the toilet, changing nappies, handling cat litter and similar activities.
Below are a selection of photos, sourced from the PHE website, that were taken after pressing hands onto a growth medium. Within these, germs of potential faecal origins are able to be seen to grow. This was done after people had touched everyday objects and contaminated foods or after using the toilet. They show bacterial colonies grown from contamination on the hands.
Peter Hoffman, an expert in infection control at PHE said: “People may not be aware of how many germs they get on their hands after doing a range of general everyday tasks so this series of photos really helps to highlight this. Just as contamination was passed from my hands to the growth surfaces in the pictures, so it could be passed from your hands to your mouth, the food you handle or any other route of infection. Washing the hands using soap and water is integral to breaking the cycle of transmission of harmful bugs whether that is in a hospital or in our own homes or work and everyone needs to adopt this very good habit.“
Increasingly being recognised as a major threat to public health, gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses including E.coli O157, norovirus, colds and flu can be a result of ingestion of these bacteria and viruses. It is also a way in which highly antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be spread around.
The more germs there are, the greater the chance they will cause an infection so hand washing is a method of reducing potential harm.
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