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Handwashing key to good health

Home health care and good hygiene practices in the home and in the workplace are as important an issue as hurricane preparedness and fire prevention. For many reasons, the concept of hygiene seems to have been relegated to handwashing as the primary means of control of the spread of bacteria. While

it is an acceptable practice to wash hands after using a bathroom; it is a required practice for many other reasons.

Hygiene is especially important in an emergency such as a flood, hurricane, or earthquake, but finding clean, safe running water can sometimes be difficult. It has been confirmed that the lack of clean water was the primary reason for the cholera epidemic in Haiti, which followed the massive earthquake that devastated the country in 2010.

Keeping hands clean through improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. If clean, running water is not accessible, as is common in many parts of the world when disaster strikes, it is imperative to use soap and available water. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol- based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol to clean hands.

The reasoning behind handwashing is directly related to good health care practices. The following are some of the basic reasons for handwashing, regardless of whether or not you are in your own home or in the workplace:

Before, during, and after preparing food; before eating food; before and after caring for someone who is sick; before and after treating a cut or wound; after using the toilet; after changing diapers or cleaning

up a child who has used the toilet; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; after touching an animal or animal waste; after handling pet food or pet treats; after touching garbage

While the above may be the reasoning behind the need to handwash, there are many people who will forego the practice because of these common misconceptions and beliefs:

My pet is cleaner than some people in town. It is only a little cold; besides when you had it nobody didn’t treat you like you had some disease. Because I now have a cold you starting to act scornful; I am your husband/wife! My kitchen is the safest place in this house. I was in the house all day. Why must I wash my hands before lunch?

With a flood disaster impacting a home, almost the entire home must be

made safe before it can be considered as ready for occupation. All of its contents will probably have been impacted by the floodwaters. Food surfaces in the kitchen that may have touched floodwater; kitchen countertops, dining tables, chairs, plates. Personal items like wooden cutting boards, baby bottle nipples, and baby pacifiers should be discarded.

disaster there are many reasons for either establishing good hygiene practices or demanding

Surfaces that do not absorb water, but have been covered by the flood waters; floors, stoves, sinks, certain toys, countertops, flatware, plates, and tools. All of these areas and items must be thoroughly washed before use. Floors must be scrubbed and sanitized especially if there are young children in the home. Toys may have to be thrown away due to the level of flood water saturation seen on the

Wardrobes and chests of drawers are very susceptible to floodwater damages. Mould grows on hard surfaces such as corners of rooms, floor areas inside of walk-in wardrobes, drawers, behind stoves and refrigerators, and underneath kitchen sinks. Some large toys may also retain floodwater residue which may have been overlooked during the initial clean-up. Certain tools and workshop equipment are also susceptible to flood damage and will also require cleaning.

The issue here is not the initial cleaning of the flood, but the maintenance of a long-term hygiene practice that will ensure that all items affected are monitored for mould growth before it can affect

the family.

The concept of a one-time cleaning after floodwater intrusion will not guarantee that the home will be free of the long-term effects of floodwater damages. Contractors have reported being required to remove entire floors because of the damage identified below the floorboards. Decorative panelling on walls may have to be removed due to mould growth build-up behind the panelling.

Mould growth is one of the primary sources of respiratory illnesses diagnosed in persons who live in flood-damaged houses and have failed to completely sanitize the home after flooding.

Eating or drinking anything contaminated by floodwaters can cause diarrhoeal disease. To protect yourself and your family, it is important to practise good hygiene (handwashing) after contact with floodwaters. Do not allow children to play in floodwater areas. Wash children’s hands frequently (always before meals). Do not allow children to play with toys which have been contaminated by floodwater and have not been disinfected.

To many, the need for maintaining good hygiene practices may be seen as “more trouble than profit” if their current environment is part of a comprehensive public health programme that maintains and promotes good hygiene policies and practices. Barbados should be vigilant of its current health care programmes, and

be mindful of any criticisms regarding its management that may be presented, because according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, regions with the lowest coverage of “improved” sanitation in 2006 were sub-Saharan Africa (31 per cent), Southern Asia (33 per cent) and Eastern Asia

(65 per cent).

However, unfortunately for varying reasons, worldwide water quality is declining, threatening the health of ecosystems and humans worldwide. Various factors influence this deterioration, including population growth, rapid urbanization, land use, industrial discharge of chemicals, and factories contributing to global climate change. Worldwide, 780 million people do not have access to an improved water source. An estimated 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation (more than 35 per cent of the world’s population).

In 2006, seven out of ten people without access to improved sanitation were rural inhabitants. Unsafe drinking water, inadequate availability of water for hygiene, and lack of access to sanitation together contribute to about 88 per cent of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases.

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