The largest cause of bacterial bloodstream infections in the UK is not associated with uncooked meat as we thought
Uncooked chicken has a reputation problem where germs are concerned, and rightly so. But new research from the University of East Anglia, published in The Lancet: Infectious Diseases, finds that people not washing their hands may be a leading cause in the spread of E coli in the UK.
Lets be clear about E coli, says Prof David Livermore, who led the research. We all have harmless E coli that live in our gut. Additionally there are some strains that can cause diarrheal diseases, ranging from the mild to the severe. These arent associated with poor kitchen hygiene and food preparation what weve shown is that the antibiotic-resistant strains of E coli that cause bloodstream infections the ones that are difficult to treat are the ones that are often found in peoples guts. So people are carrying this E coli about.
Not washing your hands properly after going to the toilet can have serious health consequences. E coli is the biggest single cause of bacterial bloodstream infections in the UK, he says. Those who have compromised immune systems are particularly at risk. Livermore urges people working in care homes or who visit hospitals to take great care washing their hands.
But how best to protect yourself from E coli? Wash your hands properly. When you wash your hands with soap, what the soap does is to detach the microbes from your hands, but the microbes remain alive, says Prof Sally Bloomfield of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The important part of washing your hands is rinsing them. Thats what takes the microbes off your hands.
Use plenty of soap and be vigorous. Rub them for at least 15 seconds, making sure that you rub them properly, from palm to palm, as well as rubbing the back of your hands. Interlace your fingers and rub them together. Rub around the backs of each of your fingers and thumbs, Bloomfield says. Thats the way to mechanically detach all of the organisms from your hands.
After rinsing, dry your hands thoroughly to remove any microbes left lurking behind. (Be sure to change your hand towels regularly every few days, or every day if you have children on a hot wash of 60C or more to kill bacteria.)
If youre not able to wash your hands using soap and running water, Bloomfield recommends using antibacterial hand gel to kill any microbes on your hands. Keep one in your bag and use it when youre not able to get to a bathroom on a plane or at a festival. Its not as good as soap and water, but its near enough.
And if all of this sounds like a chore, buy some fancy soap to make the whole process that bit nicer. You wouldnt want to give someone E coli now, would you?