GPs urge the public to clean their hands to save lives

 Sunday 5th May is WHO World Hand Hygiene Day around the world

 The Irish College of General Practitioners, the training and professional body for Irish GPs, has urged the public to remember that to protect health, they need to clean their hands thoroughly.

Dr Nuala O Connor, ICGP Lead Advisor on preventing infections said “Washing your hands is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself and others from illnesses such as vomiting, diarrhoea, coughs, colds, sore throat, flu, in fact virtually all infections. We can be exposed to infections at home, work or during leisure activities – just think how many people touch door handles ,surfaces ,gym equipment”.

“Bacteria and viruses from hundreds of homes meet at crèches, schools and day-care centres every day. It is a fact that the ten best things to spread bugs are the ten fingers of your hands – especially if they are sticky and you put them in your mouth a lot- as kids do.”

“Most of these infections are caused by viruses. Viruses are spread through the air as tiny particles which you inhale if someone carrying the virus coughs or sneezes near you or if you touch surfaces contaminated with virus particles and then touch your own face. So wash your hands regularly especially before preparing or eating food and avoid touching your hands to your face.”

“The other way we pick up infections is if someone coughs within three feet of us and we inhale their germs so if you feel a cough or sneeze coming on then turn away from people and cough into your elbow or a tissue, bin it and wash your hands. Hand sanitising gel is a great way to keep your hands free from harmful bugs.”

“Teaching children the importance of handwashing and how to cough safely are great safety life skills. Good hand hygiene can help parents reduce the risk of having to stay home from work due to their child’s or their own illness. It will help prevent grandparents getting sick too. However if you are sick it is important to stay home from work or school when sick. has lots of help and advice on managing simple illnesses at home,” she added.

 Dr Tony Cox, Medical Director of the ICGP, added:

“We should all try to make a habit of cleaning our hands often during the day.. It is very important to clean your hands at these times:

  • When you have been in contact with a person or an animal with an infection
  • When you get back to your home from being out and about or at work, especially if your work involves a lot of contact with people or animals
  • Before starting to prepare or handle food
  • After touching raw meat including poultry
  • Before eating food
  • After using the toilet and after changing nappies
  • When visiting a hospital or health care service.

Dr O Connor added: “All you need to help stop the spread of infection is running water, plain soap and a clean towel. You don’t need fancy soaps and you should avoid “antibacterial” soaps as they don’t offer any benefit and may increase the risk of resistant germs.   It’s important to wash towels often at home.   Outside of home it is best not to use a cloth towel unless you know it is clean. Alcohol gel is as good as or better than washing your hands most of the time if your hands look clean. If you can see dirt on your hands or you have diarrhoea you do need to use liquid soap and water.”

See for more information and helpful videos about good hand hygiene. Visit for tips from GPs and pharmacists on managing simple illnesses such as tummy bugs, coughs, and colds at home.



Issued by:

Aileen O’Meara, Communications Consultant, Irish College of General Practitioners.

Tel. 087 2239830