Author: Kiruthika.S, Awareness Officer

Cleanliness and hygiene, by nature are two most interchanged words in a conversation that centres on health or environment. Let’s start off by valuing the two distinguishable meanings between hygiene and cleanliness. Hygiene is a series of steps that is followed to preserve a health condition. Whereas, cleanliness is both an abstract state of being clean by being free from dirt, germs and waste as well maintaining the habit in a pattern.

Among many hygiene subcategories, how many of us are aware of the term mental hygiene? Mental hygiene is defined as a psychological well-being or the absence of any form of mental illness.  Similarly, the broad term of hygiene can be fit into various sub-groups and negligence of such will give rise to substantial effects in the particular bailiwick.

Here are some of the overlooked practices that are common, if not entirely habitual that hinder with general hygiene:

  1. Irregular brushing or flossing of teeth- With a fast phased life, some of us try to skip a few everyday tasks such as this. As insignificant as this act may seem, here is an interesting fact by Natasha Lee, the president of California Dental Association; Irregular brushing leads to swollen and bleeding gums followed by the development of cavities that would travel up to the nerves. Further, a painless gum disease develops that eventually causes teeth to fall out. Among the other things, growing research indicates the relation between gum disease and developmental heart diseases.
  2. Infrequent washing of bedding- As much as we are all lazy to do laundry, infrequent washing of clothes or bedding deems them to become a petri dish of bacteria, fungi and dust mites. As bacteria multiply rapidly, it will eventually lead to a staph infection. If the staph infection is not found early and treated, it finds its way into the bloodstream and causes fatal conditions like toxic shock syndrome.
  3. Reusing water bottles without washing it- While staying hydrated is important, washing water bottles frequently is important too. A test reveals that refilling water bottles without thoroughly washing is as unhygienic as licking dog’s toys. This is because large amounts of bacteria, including food poisoning bug coli were found on water bottle tops. Over-time, chemicals that leach onto dirty plastic bottles health conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis and possible breast cancer.

Here are some everyday habits that one can follow to practice general hygiene.

  1. Regular bathing: As much as everyday bathing is emphasised, dermatologists recommend it is important to bathe and shampoo at least at regular intervals.
  2. Trimming nails can prevent infected nail beds.
  3. Brushing and flossing twice a day or at least once a day will help maintain serious gum damages at bay.
  4. Washing hands and feet regularly will prevent many, if not all contact infections from entering our system.

Basic hygiene such as washing hands may seem obvious, but they are very important. At present, the spread of the pandemic disease, COVID-19, happens to grow in exponential form as a result of poor hygiene. Washing hands with plain soap and water, goes a long way, if done thoroughly and often. COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets released from nostrils, which typically travel about 3-6 feet and settle on surfaces where they live for a few hours up to several days. The risk of catching the infection is higher when a person touches these surfaces where the droplets may have settled or directly inhaling those particles.

“If people cough or sneeze into their elbow, that limits the spread of respiratory secretions” says Paul Biddinger, director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation, and Practice Program, Harvard. A study done in 2008 on the effects of proper handwashing proved that the risk of respiratory infection is reduced by 21%. Thus, washing hands proved to decrease disease transmission and thereby reducing infection.

Hand Sanitizers may come in handy for such situations. However, the effect of sanitizer will not be realised on a dirty or greasy hand. The hand sanitizers must contain at least 60% alcohol to be effective against germs and viruses. Another path the virus finds its way into our body is when we touch our faces. A study done in 2015 at University of New South Wales found that on average, humans touched their face about 23 times in an hour. In doing so, we increase the risk of virus entering our system through eyes, nose and mouth.

A general hygiene practice is more of an individual choice and preferences. A well aware individual may talk about its importance and try and prevent illness by providing personal hygiene items. While hygiene plays more of a personal role, it is important to take note of individual emotions and sentiments while trying to implement its importance. Hints of poor hygiene of an individual could be a sign of depression or other personal reasons. It is important to remain candid and yet understanding when trying to teach personal hygiene.

Overall, in a healthy growing society, cleanliness and hygiene play an upper hand for a comprehensive development and sustenance.