Consequences of poor hand hygiene and the importance of handwashing

So many nasty illnesses start with poor hand hygiene

Salmonella, campylobacter, MRSA, flu, diarrhoea and sickness, the common cold, impetigo, – these are just some of the viruses and infections passed between people who do not wash their hands.

Children and the elderly are most likely to get very ill and potentially die from food borne illnesses caused by bacteria and viruses. The unfortunate part is that many of these illnesses can be prevented by proper hand washing at the correct time as well as thorough cooking of raw meat.

Here are a few examples


Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning and gastro-enteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestine). It is generally found in the gut of animals such as turkeys, chickens, wild birds, cattle and pets.

It is spread by eating or drinking contaminated food, water or unpasteurised milk. Pets such as cats and dogs may be a source of the bacteria in your home. Person to person spread occurs when your personal hygiene is poor.


Salmonella food poisoning is the result of touching or eating contaminated foods. Its symptoms include diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and fever. Many foods that people prepare in their home, especially meats and poultry, have warning labels about safe handling on the packaging for this reason.


MRSA stands for Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Staphylococcus aureus (SA) is a common type of bacteria that lives harmlessly in the nose or on the skin of around 25-30% of people. Most people do not even realise they are carrying the germ.

Minor SA infections can be treated with antibiotics. In the past, even serious SA infections could be successfully treated with antibiotics. However, some types of SA have developed into ‘super-strains’, which have become resistant to antibiotics and so are classified as MRSA.

MRSA may require a lengthy stay in hospital. In some cases, it can lead to serious health problems such as blood poisoning and infections of the lungs, bones or the heart valve. A small number of people die from the effects of MRSA.


Flu is much more serious than you may think. Flu is a virus that can cause chills, fever and a sore throat and, if you have heart or lung problems or are 65 or over, it will hit you hardest.

The virus can also cause headaches, coughing, sneezing and extreme tiredness. In the most serious cases it can cause pneumonia, which can result in death. Flu is often spread through the air by coughs and sneezes or by touching contaminated surfaces.


Impetigo is a very contagious infection of the skin, common in children. Redness develops into small blisters that gradually crust and erode. It is highly contagious and can be spread from person to person and to other parts of the body simply by touching it.

To protect yourself from any of these illnesses you must wash your hands properly.