How one good habit could stop the spread of countless diseases

13 October 2017

Be honest, do you ever forget to wash your hands? It’s a habit we all know we should follow, yet we don’t all appreciate how crucial it can be for our health. In celebration of the upcoming Global Handwashing day (the 15th of October) we explore the science behind squeaky clean hands.

When you use a bathroom, you are coming into contact with millions of bacteria; these bacteria can come from yourself, but also from other people who’ve used the bathroom before you. They can come from the toilet, but also the toilet seat, door handle, sinks, taps and any other surfaces you touch.

The majority of bacteria are harmless, but some bacteria found in human waste (faecal bacteria) can be dangerous. The transmission of faecal bacteria via one person to the other can cause devastating diseases. Most of these diarrhoeal diseases, which kills up to three million people a year, the majority of them children.

In fact, every year around 3.5 million under five years old die from diarrhoea and pneumonia, often through bad sanitation and poor personal hygiene. One in three people on Earth don’t have a proper toilet, let alone hygienic facilities to wash their hands.

Microbes that cause diseases are called pathogens, and these bad bacteria thrive in the oils on your hands. Water alone can’t break down these oils and rid your hands of these pathogens, so on the Global Handwashing Day it’s time to spread the word about always washing your hands with water and soap.

To wash your hands effectively, pay close attention to the areas between your fingers and underneath your nails, as these are the areas where bacteria will thrive the most. Always use soap and take your time to cover the surface of your hands.



  • Why is personal hygiene and handwashing extra important in Third World Countries?
  • Why do you think water alone can’t get rid of the microbes on your hands?
  • Can you think of any other times of the day you should wash your hands? Think about the objects and surfaces you touch.



More articles like this are coming soon, so you can create quick, real-world links to your teaching.

For more information and how to test how quickly microbes can spread, check out our Helping Hands resources here: