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Hygiene and cleanliness are often considered synonymous, but they are not the same. According to the WHO, hygiene refers to conditions and practices that help to maintain health and prevent the spread of diseases. Cleaning involves removing dirt etc. from objects or surfaces. It can be personal cleanliness or that of our environment. Cleanliness therefore is a means to achieve hygiene.
There are many different kinds of hygiene.
Respiratory hygiene: This is important to prevent cross infection, specifically, from flu and related respiratory illness. One should keep a distance of minimum 3 ft, from a person who is coughing, sneezing or singing. Most respiratory particles are more than 5 microns in size and do not travel a distance of more than 3 ft. This respiratory hygiene, however, will not prevent transmission of the tuberculosis bacteria, which are less than 5 microns and keep circulating in the area.
Hand hygiene: This is the simplest and also the most economical way to prevent transmission of harmful microorganisms and control spread of infection. The mantra is “before and after”, i.e. one should wash hands before and after eating food, touching any infected material, seeing a patient or after a bowel movement. Proper hand washing prevents soil-transmitted helminth infections. Last year, the FSSAI cautioned that “cross contamination from currency is a risk to human health leading to a wide variety of diseases including food poisoning, skin, respiratory and intestinal infections”. Hence, hands must also be thoroughly washed after handling money and before touching food and vice versa.
Food hygiene: This means maintaining hygiene at home while cutting, serving and eating food. Failure to maintain food hygiene may lead to contamination of food. While cutting a vegetable, the surface or the cutting board should be clean and hygienic including the knife, hands, water, utensils etc. If this is not possible, follow the formula of ‘boil it, heat it, peel it, cook it or forget it’.
Water hygiene: Drinking safe water, safe drinking glass, proper washing of glass, not washing multiple glasses in the same utensil and picking up glasses properly are part of water hygiene. People often try to pick up four glasses of water at the same time with one finger in each glass.
Body hygiene: Personal hygiene is keeping the body clean and includes bathing, wash hands, trimming fingernails. Wearing clean clothes is also an important part of personal hygiene.
Our ancient texts mention 16 upchars; some of these 16 basic steps are related to body hygiene and they involve washing feet first and then hands followed by mouth and finally the body. Washing of the feet is the most important as they are the ones which carry infections into one’s house. Cleaning of mouth is cleaning the teeth with one finger, gums with two fingers, tongue with three fingers and palate with thumb.
Abhishekam or the snana of the body involves multiple steps. Ancient steps have been washing the body with milk water (rose water etc.) followed by rubbing with curd (soap), honey (moisturizers), ghee (oil), sugar (the drying agent) and finally with milk water again. This facilitates natural bathing and not dependent on soap.
Nail hygiene: This is very important hygiene, especially for food handlers. It is important that they be given typhoid vaccine and de-worming tablets every three months.
The forthcoming 26th Perfect Health Mela to be held from 18th October to 20th October will create awareness among the general public about different aspects of hygiene, such as respiratory hygiene, hand hygiene and the need to maintain hygiene.
Fena, the makers of large range of fabric care, home care and personal care products will participate in the 26th Perfect Health Mela and educate visitors and participants about cleanliness and hygiene.
Dr KK Aggarwal
Padma Shri Awardee
President Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania (CMAAO)
Group Editor-in-Chief IJCP Publications
President Heart Care Foundation of India
Past National President IMA