Real Talk from a Birmingham Handsurgeon: The Importance of Washing your Hands

hand surgeon, washing hands in the sink

Birmingham, AL – We have stated before that we use our hands for a lot of things and they are an integral part of our lives. While it is possible to live without the use of our hands, it would make like significantly harder. So, we do what we must to keep our hands healthy and safe. But there is more to our hands than just its primary function. We also need to be aware of the traces that our hands make in public spaces.

With the increasing public health concerns regarding the coronavirus, flu season, and groups of people buying into anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, it is more important than ever to do our part to prevent the spreading of germs. That means washing your hands properly and often. It is something that doesn’t sound hard to do. After all, if you have attended any preschool or kindergarten class in your life, you are encouraged to wash your hands properly after you go to the restroom and before meals.

So, we are going to talk about the importance of proper handwashing, and what you can do to prevent the spread of diseases.

When Did We Learn Washing Hands Were Important?

When people talk about handwashing as a safety standard, most people don’t realize that it is a fairly recent concept. How recent? We invented the sewing machine and microphone before the concept of hand washing. So, what happened? Who learned that hand washing was a good idea, and when was it put into public practice?

That distinction belongs to Hungarian doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis. He was a man of his time, who encouraged cleanliness and hand washing for surgeons, obstetricians and other medical workers who worked with him. He noticed that women and newborns were dying from an infection at a rapid rate at his hospital. Then he noticed that the interns would hop from an autopsy study to help deliver a baby right after with the same dirty hands and tools they just used on a corpse. In 1847 introduced hand washing with chlorinated lime solutions for interns who had performed autopsies. This immediately reduced the incidence of fatal puerperal fever from about 10 percent (range 5–30 percent) to about 1–2 percent. 

In spite of this, the rest of his life wasn’t as squeaky clean. Most of his students and assistants thought his views on hygiene were extreme at the time. Semmelweis’s policy predated Louis Pasteur’s understanding of bacteria, and he wasn’t a very tactful man. So his coworkers in Vienna thought his views of hand washing were so extreme that they kicked him out of his hospital. He had to find work in Budapest but was ultimately shoved into an asylum where he stayed until he died.

Thankfully, his policies became more main-stream over time, after more people and medical professionals, especially hand surgeons, adopted hand washing.

How Washing Hands Prevents Disease

washing hands, hand surgeon

So, how does washing your hands prevent disease, and why should a hand surgeon tell the public about the concept? For starters, despite what you might believe the act of washing your hands with soap doesn’t kill viruses or bacteria. The only things that can kill them are either special antibiotics/antivirals or extreme heat. Washing your hands with the right soap just slips the germs from your hands and into the water you wash them with. That’s why we use soap and hot water. It is also why we take at least 20 seconds to a minute washing the germs away. The more thoroughly we wash them, the more likely the bacteria can slip away from your hands.

But what is so important about our hands that we need to wash them? Because all it takes is a second of physical contact for germs to move from one surface to another. We use them far too often to touch areas on our body for harmful bacteria to enter. “People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it. Germs can get into the body through the eyes, nose, and mouth and make us sick. They can get into foods and drinks while people prepare or consume them. Germs can multiply in some types of foods or drinks, under certain conditions, and make people sick. They can be transferred to other objects, like handrails, tabletops, or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands.”

So, if you want to decrease the chances of you or your loved ones getting sick, you need to take care of hand hygiene. It will only do you and others around you a favor. Especially when you are feeling uneasy about the possibility of getting sick.

Want more advice from a Birmingham, Al Hand Surgeon? Read more by visiting us on the web at

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