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Health

To slow an epidemic, focus on handwashing

February 11, 2020 06:08 AM

COURTESY TOI FEB 11

To slow an epidemic, focus on handwashing

Better Hand Hygiene Of Travellers Passing Through 10 Key Airports Could Cut Spread Of Coronavirus
Boston:

Improving the rates of handwashing by travellers passing through just 10 of the world’s leading airports could significantly reduce the spread of many infectious diseases, including the novel coronavirus, according to a study.


The greater the improvement in people’s handwashing habits at airports, the more dramatic the effect on slowing the disease, said researchers, including those from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The findings were published in late December, just before the recent coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. The study, published in the journal Risk Analysis, could apply to any such disease, the researchers noted. People can be surprisingly casual about washing hands even in crowded locations like airports, they said.

Travellers from different parts of the world are touching surfaces such as chair armrests, check-in kiosks, security checkpoint trays, and restroom doorknobs and faucets, the researchers said.

Based on data from previous research, the team estimated that on average, only about 20% of people in airports have clean hands — meaning they have been washed with soap and water, for at least 15 seconds, within the last hour or so. The other 80% are potentially contaminating everything they touch with whatever germs they may be carrying, the researchers said.

“70% of the people who go to the toilet wash their hands afterwards,” said Professor Christos Nicolaides from the University of Cyprus. “The other 30% don’t. And of those that do, only 50% do it right,” said Nicolaides. Others, he said, just rinse briefly in some water.

That figure, combined with estimates of exposure to the many potentially contaminated surfaces that people come into contact with in an airport, leads to the team’s estimate that about 20% of travellers in an airport have clean hands. Improving handwashing at all of the world’s airports to triple that rate, so that 60% of travellers to have clean hands at any given time, would have the greatest impact, potentially slowing global disease spread by almost 70%, the researchers noted.

Deploying such measures at so many airports and reaching such a high level of compliance may be impractical, they said. However, the study suggests that a significant reduction in disease spread could still be achieved by just picking the 10 most significant airports based on the initial location of a viral outbreak.

Focusing handwashing messaging in those 10 airports could potentially slow the disease spread by as much as 37%, the researchers estimate. Even small improvements in hygiene could make a noticeable dent, the researchers said. The increasing prevalence of clean hands in all airports worldwide by just 10% could slow the global rate of the spread of a disease by about 24%, the researchers said. PTI

 

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