Being in the infection prevention business, many people may think that means I obsess over the cleanliness of our home. While I may not “obsess”, I will admit I do “nag” when it comes to hand hygiene. I’m pretty sure by the age of 4, my son was conducting hand hygiene audits of his preschool classmates, and I do fondly recall having one of those proud mommy moments when my son realized that someone had not washed their hands after using the restroom. Admittedly there was a bit of “public shaming” involved – you know the kind that only a child can get away with? A child yelling out in a public restroom “Mommy – that woman did not wash her hands! GROSS!” It was a moment of equal parts mortification and delight; mortification of the “public shaming” and delight over realizing my nagging really was getting through!
Most of us know that children, particularly young children, have immature immune systems that improve and strengthen with age. But are you aware of the number of child deaths that occur each year from infectious diseases? I didn’t. I did however, get an alert of a new report, "Small Steps for Big Change", that was just released by the Global Hygiene Council (GHC) that investigates the alarming burden of preventable infectious diseases in children worldwide.
According to the report, more than 3 million children under the age of 5 die from infectious diseases each year. Of that 3 million, almost a million die from pneumonia, and more than 700,000 children under the age of 5, die as a result of diarrhea. The report also indicates that the general public are pretty cavalier when it comes to improving our cleaning and disinfection practices in our homes. In fact, 52% of families do not increase surface disinfection at home during the cold and flu season. Further, 31% of reported foodborne outbreaks occur in at home – something to think about with the US Thanksgiving Holiday fast approaching!
In an attempt to try and improve both our personal and home hygiene practises, the Global Hygiene Council has developed a 5-step plan that includes; improve worldwide hygiene, hand hygiene, kitchen hygiene, cleaning frequently touched surfaces, and just plain improvement personal hygiene in general. The study concludes that families, communities and healthcare professionals need to acknowledge that improved hygiene is effectively a first line of defence in preventing the spread of infection. If we adopt better hygiene practices we could have a dramatic impact on improving the lives of young children around the world.
While I strive to set a high standard for hand hygiene, I do not obsess over disinfecting each and every surface in our home. Heck, I can’t even pretend that I always step up cleaning of the high touch surfaces in our home when one or more of us have a cold or flu…. Like many, I try my best. I hope that by revealing the staggering number of childhood deaths, we as a community, can work to improve everyone’s understanding of the importance of hygiene. I hope, however, we don’t get into “public shaming” of people when their hygiene is not the same as ours – not everyone has the same easy access as many of us to clean water and cleaning products. I do think (hope) that by drawing attention to the relatively simple 5 steps that can be instituted to improve hygiene, we will save many of those 3 million children.