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Background: Microbe transmission and the importance of good hygiene at the right moment

Links to activities: respiratory hygiene, horrid hands, and soap, water, and pepper experiment.

Hygiene is a group of activities we do to prevent the spread of harmful microbes. By knowing how to effectively keep these microbes from spreading in schools, homes and communities, we can reduce potentially dangerous infections, limit sickness absence from school and work, and reduce the strain on health services.

We learned earlier that a recent report commissioned by the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) shows that the importance of hygiene in preventing infectious diseases is fairly well understood by the UK public, including its role in reducing pressure on the NHS, and tackling antibiotic resistance.

The International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene has developed an approach to hygiene in home and everyday life called Targeted Hygiene, which focuses on breaking the chain of infection, while ensuring we are still exposed to the microbes needed for a healthy microbiome.

Targeted hygiene focuses on where harmful microbes are found, namely: other people, contaminated food and water, and domestic animals. Measures like handwashing and surface cleaning must focus on the critical surfaces most likely to spread harmful microbes. The key “moments” for focusing hygiene practices include:

  • During food handling
  • Whilst eating with fingers
  • Whilst using the toilet
  • Coughing, sneezing and nose blowing
  • Touching surfaces frequently touched by other people
  • Handling and laundering ‘dirty’ clothing and household linens
  • Caring for domestic animals
  • Handling and disposing of refuse
  • Caring for an infected family member

News article - Do you know the hygiene hot spots in your home?

At key moments, it is necessary to use a hygiene practice to prevent ongoing spread of harmful microbes. All links in the chain of infection need to be in place for an infection to spread - so if we break one of the links in the chain, then an infection can not spread (please see the image below).

Flow-chart-type image showing how microbes spread (spread of pathogens-portal of entry-recipient-source of pathogens-exist route) and a list of examples of when harmful microbes are likely to spread (e.g. during food handling, caring for domestic animals, and handling dirty clothes and household linens)

Image taken from RSPH Report: Too clean or not too clean?

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