COVID-19: Survey reveals only half of New Zealand washing hands 'properly' and often

Many of us have cringed in the work bathroom after spotting a colleague not washing their hands - and it turns out it's much more common than you think.

According to a recent Dyson survey, half of New Zealanders (50 percent) admit to not drying their hands properly "very often", even though 59 percent of office workers also said they're much more concerned about hygiene at work this year after coming out of last year's lockdowns.

Sotiris Vardoulakis, a professor of global environmental health at the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, said the results are "concerning". 

"Hand hygiene is our first line of defence in the fight against flu and other infectious diseases by preventing the spread of viruses and bacteria," he told Newshub. 

"The findings of [the Dyson survey] indicate further education on hand hygiene is needed. Most of us know to use soap and water, and wash hands for at least 20 seconds (or the length of the 'Happy Birthday' song).

"However, too many of us overlook the crucial step of drying our hands thoroughly afterwards."

Vardoulakis says drying is as important as washing. 

"When you are in a hurry, don't be tempted to skip the hand-drying step as you risk spreading germs elsewhere. Drying hands properly is hugely important as scientific research shows damp hands can transfer up to 1000 times more bacteria than dry hands."

And bad news if you're a 'wipe them on my pants' kind of person. 

"[This] negates the whole hand washing process as clothing is generally teeming with germs and bacteria. This is why drying hands properly is just as important as washing them," says Vardoulakis. 

He put together some top tips on avoiding cold and flu germs during the winter months. 

Keep shared spaces hygienic

In the era of 'hot desking' it is even more important to keep high contact surfaces clean. Multiple people using that surface throughout the day means that it becomes a hotbed for germs. Ideally hot desking should be avoided, or at least ensure that the same person stays there all day and the surface is thoroughly cleaned after use. For those who hot desk, paying attention to hand hygiene and maintaining good washing practices can make a significant difference when it comes to the spread of common germs, such as viruses and bacteria that can cause illnesses. Carry hand sanitiser with you to kill germs when soap and water isn't available to use. When shopping for sanitiser make sure you choose one that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Keep household surfaces clean, particularly those that are touched frequently, by disinfecting them regularly.

Wash and dry your hands properly.

Practicing good hygiene habits like washing and drying your hands properly is integral to maintaining hand hygiene and removing potentially pathogenic microorganisms, particularly when you're in public spaces such as visiting public washrooms. Thoroughly washing and drying your hands properly should remain a ritual, even after the pandemic. Slow down and take the time to wash your hands with soap and importantly, dry your hands thoroughly each time – ideally with touchless jet air hand dryers with HEPA filters so you're drying with purified air, not dirty air.

Maintain your distance

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a strong focus on social distancing. But you should avoid mixing with crowds of people where possible, as well as anyone who you know is unwell such as friends or family members. In the same vein, ensure you isolate yourself from others if you come down with cold or flu-like symptoms to avoid spreading germs. 

Boost your immune system

Up your vitamin intake in winter, especially Vitamin C, and eat a balanced diet providing your body with key nutrients to boost your immunity and help warn-off or fight infection. 

Stay warm and dry

Rug up, stay hydrated and try swapping cold water for warm herbal tea.

Breathe clean air

We have become much more aware of the importance of social distancing and cough and sneeze etiquette, and of the use of facemasks under certain circumstances. But it's important to ensure good ventilation of indoor spaces. Also, air purifiers with sealed HEPA 13 standard filtration, when appropriately used, can significantly improve indoor air quality.