Washing hands or wearing gloves, which is the more effective way to prevent Covid? Experts offer some insightsAugust 9, 2020
The first thing that the WHO recommended in the fight against the pandemic was hand hygiene. So by now, everyone knows that hand washing is one of the key measures to prevent Covid transmission. However, there is a lack of access to basic amenities like water and soap in many countries, which also have limited healthcare capacity.
Researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in the US found that without access to soap and clean water, over two billion people in low- and middle-income nations—a quarter of the world’s population—have a greater likelihood of transmitting the virus than those in wealthy countries. In another study, published in the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, more than 50% people in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania lack access to effective hand washing. The study found that in 46 countries, more than half of the people lacked access to soap and clean water. In India, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia, more than 50 million people in each country were estimated to be without hand washing access, according to the study.
As the ‘contactless’ business becomes the new normal, a host of products now address the issue of touch—contactless dining, payments, delivery, work solutions and even social interaction via video chat. Additionally, the newest Apple Watch update, watchOS 7, will have a feature that can detect when the wearer is washing their hands and prompt them to do it for at least 20 seconds. The feature, expected to be out in the fall, will rely on motion sensors and sounds to know when the wearer is washing hands. When it is detected, the watch will set a 20-second countdown timer.
Hand washing is easier and more recommended than wearing gloves. We touch a variety of things—from the mobile phone to the bathroom door—in a span of a few minutes and if done wearing the same pair of gloves, the germs can get carried to different surfaces. “If one continues to use the same pair of gloves throughout the day, it becomes a source of infection, whereby we can spread the virus to others, as well as to ourselves while inadvertently touching our face. Hand washing with soap and water is the most desirable and effective way. Sanitiser can be used in places where there is no access to water and soap. It is impossible to sanitise gloves with sanitisers and as such, the habit of wearing gloves should be discouraged for better hygiene,” says Ajay Agarwal, head of department, internal medicine, Fortis Hospital, Noida.
Being contactless does not always guarantee safety, according to Tulika Bhati, housekeeping manager, Hilton Garden Inn, Saket, New Delhi. “We follow a high standard of sanitation and disinfection where cleanliness is not restricted to the rooms, but to the experience too. Our staff needs to maintain personal hygiene and sanity at all times. Gloves can be considered unsafe as bacteria produced from body fluids like sweat may thrive for hours and cross-contaminate food objects and surfaces. Use of disposable gloves and masks is uncompromisable under any circumstances,” she says.
Products like CPD Alco-Sterile, a nanotechnology-based spray that provides ‘Continuous Disinfection Technology’, help disinfect high-contact areas like workspaces, airports, railways, hospitals, malls, etc. But the need to sanitise continuously is important. “Gloves frequently touch different surfaces, so it gives you a perceived notion of safety, but the contamination levels are very high. Rather hand washing is good for personal hand hygiene,” says Ashish Kapur, director, CPD INDIA, which manufactures CPD Alco-Sterile.
Gloves, which are primarily recommended for doctors and other healthcare workers, reduce the risk of exposure to blood-borne pathogens during surgery. KK Aggarwal, president, Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania (CMAAO) and Heart Care Foundation Of India (HCFI), says gloves are an integral part of PPE kits. “Hand hygiene is a must, both before and after gloving, even for healthcare workers. Gloves are not an assured protective mechanism against the virus, as wearing them may still lead to spread of the infection. If you touch a surface or any object that is potentially contaminated, the virus could stick to the gloves and can spread the infection,” says Aggarwal, who has been the past national president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA).
Contactless processes have also caused a sort of phobia among people. “We do not tend to wash hands when gloved. Hence, gloves need to be periodically changed, especially by those who handle food and edible items. They can use degradable plastic gloves instead of surgical ones. Gloves need to be worn if you are continuously working on the food counter and should be replaced every time you leave and come back. Washing hands is better than sanitising, but sanitisers mostly mask germs, whereas hand washing removes them,” says Manoj Kutteri, wellness director, Atmantan Wellness Centre, Pune.