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Hand hygiene and cough etiquette - Advice and information to the general public
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How to prevent transmission
Transmission of SARS-CoV-2, influensa and other respiratory tract diseases occurs primarily via close contact with an infected person after exposure to small and large droplets containing virus from the respiratory tract from a person who is sick. The infection is transmitted in three ways; by inhalation of droplets containing infectious agent, by droplets hitting the mucous membranes of the eyes or mouth, or by transmitting infectious agent to the hands, and then to the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth by touch (contact infection).
Read more about transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and influenza here:
With increased vaccination coverage in the population, the pandemic is in a new phase, and many infection control measures for the population have been removed. The general advice about good cough etiquette and good hand hygiene are essential to preventing transmission and still apply:
- People who are sick should stay at home
- Hand hygiene
- Good cough etiquette
Hand hygiene prevents contact transmission. Contact transmission can occur either through direct contact with an infectious person (such as squeezing and shaking hands) or indirectly by transmitting drops of infectious virus from the respiratory tract to contaminated surfaces and from there to the hands and the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and eyes via touch. Properly performed hand hygiene will reduce both direct and indirect contact transmission.
When should you perform hand hygiene?
- Before cooking or eating food
- After using the toilet (or changing nappies/diapers)
- With visibly dirty hands
- After contact with body fluids (e.g. after wiping the nose)
- After contact with animals
- When you arrive at work / kindergarten / school
- After touching contact points in areas used by many people, including work / kindergarten / school
- Before putting on a face mask and immediately after removing it
Hand washing or hand disinfection?
Both hand washing and alcohol-based hand disinfection are good and effective hand hygiene methods.
Alcohol-based hand disinfection has a reduced effect when the hands are wet, visibly dirty or soiled with organic material such as food residues and body fluids. Hand washing with soap and water is therefore normally recommended as a method outside the healthcare sector.
Alcohol-based hand disinfectant can be made easily available and are less irritating to the skin on the hands. Therefore, it can be a good alternative to hand washing when the hands are dry and not visibly soiled, and when soap and water are unavailable.
For the best effect, follow the manufacturer's recommendations for how much to use and how long it takes to work.
There is no need to perform both hand washing and hand disinfection – one is sufficient.
Effective hand washing step by step:
Effective hand disinfection step by step:
Choice of disinfectant
It is important that the products used are both effective, safe and skin friendly.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health, like WHO and ECDC, primarily recommends alcohol-based hand disinfection, based on ethanol or isopropanol. Ethanol is less irritating to skin, eyes and mucous membranes and may therefore be preferred as a main ingredient. The alcohol concentration should be between 70-90 per cent v/v.
Alcohol-based hand disinfectants have been used by the healthcare system in Norway for several decades. Even though some react with irritated skin, experience shows that alcohol-based disinfection is effective and is gentle to skin on the hands.
Hand disinfectants must comply with the requirements of the biocide regulations managed by the Norwegian Environment Agency.
Hand disinfectants with active ingredients other than alcohol are also available. In order to be sold in Norway, these products, like alcohol-based hand disinfectants, must comply with the requirements of the biocide regulations. They must show documented effect according to ES-NS-1500. There is limited experience with clinical use of these products.
How should you dry your hands after washing them?
You can dry your hands with disposable paper towels or warm air hand dryers. It is important that hand dryers are kept clean. They should be designed so that water does not collect at the bottom and then be blown out during use.
Hand towels can be used in private homes but should be changed regularly.
Warm air hand dryers should not be used in healthcare institutions. Read more about drying hands in the national hand hygiene guide in the health service.
How to prevent dry and sore hands?
Here is some advice to prevent dry and sore skin on the hands due to frequent hand hygiene:
- Use skin-friendly soaps (perfume-free, pH <5.5) and use good quality paper towels to reduce drying out of the skin. At home, clean towels are a good option.
- Wash your hands in lukewarm water, not hot water.
- Wet your hands before applying soap.
- Rinse your hands thoroughly after washing so that all soap suds are washed away.
- Pat your hands with the paper towel / towel until they are completely dry, avoid rubbing hard.
- Use hand cream to prevent dry and sore skin, as often as needed (e.g., after hand washing).
- When using shared tubes (other than by people in the same household), it is important to ensure that the tube opening does not come into contact with skin or objects during use, to avoid contaminating the cream.
Film about skin-friendly handwashing in several languages
See these animated films in several languages from the Psoriasis and Eczema Association (PEF).
The film is intended to promote skin-friendly handwashing during the coronavirus pandemic.
The film is available in these languages:
Use of disposable gloves
Transmission by hands wearing gloves happens in the same way as for hands without gloves. Therefore, we do not recommend the general use of disposable gloves, see Routine use of gloves for shop employees and customers is not recommended.
Precautions with use of hand disinfectants
- Alcohol-based hand disinfectants are flammable. Do not store or use at high temperatures or near open flames.
- Hands must be dry after using hand disinfectant before activities that may involve contact with heat, sparks or open fire (normal drying time is 20-30 seconds). Cases have been reported where hands that are damp with alcohol-based hand disinfectant have been set alight after close contact with open flames, for example, when lighting a candle or lighting a fire in a stove.
- Hands must also be dry before touching nearby objects because of the risk of static electricity. Sparks can arise. Cases have been reported where hands that are damp with alcohol-based hand disinfectant have touched metal objects, causing sparks.
- Alcohol-based hand disinfectants can be harmful if swallowed or if they come into contact with the eyes. Consider safe use and placement in areas where children, people with mental disorders or who are mentally impaired or other groups are at increased risk of accidental ingestion.
Read more about precautions when using hand disinfection in NIPH's national guide for hand hygiene (in Norwegian).
Good cough etiquette is crucial to limit respiratory tract transmission from someone who is infected with COVID-19.
- Avoid coughing or sneezing directly on others.
- Try covering your mouth and nose with a tissue (which you throw away afterwards) when coughing/sneezing, or cough/sneeze into your elbow if you do not have a tissue available.
- Wash your hands after all contact with respiratory secretions or objects that may be contaminated.
Advice about face mask and visor use: