Wash your hands for 20 seconds to help prevent antibiotic resistance

Regular handwashing is vital to help protect yourself from infections

A new RPS survey shows that 84% of British adults don’t wash their hands for long enough to clean them of the bacteria which can cause infections such as upset stomachs or pneumonia, or viruses which can cause colds and flu. The recommended time to spend washing your hands is 20 seconds, as long as it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday to you’ twice.

Effective handwashing is important, as fewer infections mean fewer antibiotics are prescribed. Around 30% of diarrhoea and 16% of respiratory infections can be prevented through handwashing.

Over the winter there is an increase in the prescribing of antibiotics for infections, some of which could have been prevented by good hand hygiene, or treated at an earlier stage by getting advice and medicines from a pharmacist.  Prescribing too many antibiotics is a major cause of antibiotic resistance, now a real threat to public health.

The handwashing habits of those surveyed showed:

  • 2 in 3 people (65%) don’t always wash their hands before eating 
  • 1 in 2 people (50%) don’t always wash their hands after handling animals, such as pets
  • 1 in 3 people  (32%) don’t always wash their hands before preparing food
  • 1 in 5 people (21%) don’t always wash their hands after going to the toilet

In addition, 4 out of 10 people did not know that antibiotic resistance  is most accurately described as bacteria becoming resistant to the drugs used to treat them.

RPS President Ash Soni said “Even when we remain unaffected by the bugs we carry, if we don’t wash our hands we can transmit infections which then become a real problem for those who are more vulnerable, such as children and the elderly, who may then need to be prescribed antibiotics. We can never know what we are carrying or what impact it may have on those around us, which is why good handwashing is so important.

“It’s easy to pick up an infection and once ill, people often visit their GP to request antibiotics because they think they are not getting better quickly enough, when common infections can last longer than you might think. Your local pharmacist can advise you about the natural course of your infection and the best way to manage it,” added Ash

.“Getting the right information can provide reassurance that what you are experiencing is normal, so helping to reduce unnecessary GP appointments and requests for antibiotics. Pharmacists will always advise you when it’s right to see a doctor if needed. Community pharmacies are conveniently located and often open in the evenings and weekends so they are easily accessible  and you don’t need an appointment.”

Find out more about good handwashing.