Handwashing, much more important than it may seem

Apple last WWDC introduced a new feature for their Apple Watch by updating to watchOS 7: self-detection of hand washing. Although many do not value this novelty, it can have a very positive influence on our health.

The arrival of watchOS 7 brings with it a new function in our Apple Watch. The watch will be able to automatically detect when we wash our hands, and a countdown will begin that, by means of sounds and vibrations, will indicate the right time to finish that washing. The sensors of the Apple Watch will detect the movements of our hands when we wash and will be in charge of monitoring if those movements are adequate and for the correct time (20 seconds). After reading comments on chats and social networks, the expected has happened: many people despise this novelty because they consider it so obvious that it becomes useless. Sadly, handwashing is neither so widespread nor well done that you can think that.

A little history

When someone imagines handwashing, the image of a surgeon washing their hands carefully before entering the operating room will surely come to mind, then put their hands up and have someone put the gloves on. This image so repeated in series and movies has not been with us for so long. It was not until 1847 that thanks to Ignaz Semmelweis handwashing became an essential step before any medical intervention. At that time, many women became ill after childbirth with “puerperal fever”, a very serious infectious disease that caused the death of many women, even in the best hospitals with the most advanced medical care of the time.

Hand washing before exploring a patient. Semmelweis Center (Austria)

Dr. Semmelweis separated her motherhood into two parts: one attended only by midwives and the other only by doctors. He observed that the mortality of women from puerperal fever was much higher in the part assisted by doctors. What was the reason for this difference? After studying many variables, he found the cause. The doctors in the morning carried out practices with the corpses helping and teaching medical students. In the afternoon they attended the deliveries of the women in the hospital. Between one activity and the other they did not wash their hands. Today it may seem amazing to us, but at that time nothing was known about how infections were transmitted.

A measure as basic as forcing doctors to wash their hands with a chlorine solution before each examination, in addition to the medical instruments used, which caused a drastic reduction in mortality from puerperal fever. Although their studies were conclusive, both the medical society of their time and their own hospital did not support this measure.

A problem that still persists

Let us not see this situation of 1847 as something completely overcome. Handwashing remains one of the measures that would prevent the most cases of disease worldwide. In some places because they cannot, in others because they do not want to, the hands continue to be the main agent responsible for the majority of infections that we suffer throughout our lives. Let’s not forget that our hands only touch our face, mouth, eyes … but that they touch other people’s hands, the food we eat and cook, or items that other people touch with their hands. It is estimated that the percentage of people who wash their hands after using the toilet is 19%, with that I have said everything.

Wash your hands with soap could prevent a third of the diarrhea suffered by children worldwide, and one in five pneumonias. Washing hands with soap and water in schools would prevent a large percentage of truancy. And yes, I insist, with soap and water, because most people who wash their hands do it only with water. Handwashing would also help to reduce antibiotic resistance, one of the problems that we face today in modern medicine, since by reducing the incidence of infectious diseases, the use of antibiotics would be reduced in parallel.

They have to teach us to wash our hands

This is why this function of the Apple Watch is so important. After several weeks using the watchOS 7 Beta I have realized that I wash my hands worse at home than at work. The Apple Watch emits a sound when it detects that you wash your hands, and another sound together with a vibration when the recommended 20 seconds have passed that the washing should last. While at work it didn’t cost me any work to do it, I did realize that at home my washes were much shorter, and it shouldn’t be that way. To wash your hands you have to apply soap and rub not only the palms of your hands, but also the back, between your fingers and under your nails. These movements must be repeated for 20 seconds, and hand drying is not included, obviously.

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