Hand hygiene is a key measure to prevent virus infections.
Proper hand hygiene is a core component of infection prevention.
Research News

Fend off viral infections with hand hygiene

Alongside seasonal influenza, viral pathogens cause pandemics like the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) at regular intervals. In this article, we explain why preventive measures must play a key role in fighting these viruses.

Viruses are microscopic organisms. At only about 20 to 300 nanometers, viruses are many times smaller than bacteria or fungi. Strictly speaking, viruses are typically not categorized as living organisms because they lack a metabolism. Nevertheless, they can multiply in a corresponding host cell and cause illness to the host. The body’s own cells are destroyed by the pathogens which triggers defensive reactions – often displayed as symptoms.

What makes viruses so dangerous?

There are viral infections that cause mild symptoms and those that can be extremely dangerous – particularly for those with pre-existing conditions – even with state-of-the-art treatment. The Ebola virus, which led to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa between 2014 and 2016, is one of the most dangerous pathogens in the world. More than 28,000 people fell ill at the time, of which 11,300 died

In contrast to bacterial infections, medications made for viral diseases often have limited efficacy. So-called antiviral medications do exist as effective, but typically only help individually against very specific strains of the viruses.  Typically the body has to fight off the disease on its own, while and medications treat the symptoms. Prevention therefore plays a key role in preventing deaths from viruses.

Vaccinations are available for a wide range of infectious diseases. In a vaccination, the body is injected with pathogens that are either already killed or rendered harmless. The body’s response is to form suitable antibodies. If the same pathogen enters the body again, the active cells produce corresponding antibodies much faster than if they had not previously been exposed to the vaccine. A prime example of the successful implementation of vaccinations is the worldwide use of smallpox vaccines in the later 20th century. The enormous global effort to contain the disease eventually led to its eradication.  

But viruses are constantly changing and mutating to find new ways to infect a host cell. To protect against mutating viruses, new vaccines must be regularly developed. For example, new vaccines are frequently created to combat the ever-mutating influenza virus that causes the seasonal flu epidemic. Despite offensive vaccination campaigns, more than 180,000 people in Germany alone contracted influenza. Prevailing vaccination gaps are just one reason.

“In order to effectively protect oneself from coronavirus, one should apply the usual infection protection measures for droplet infections. A crucial component of this is thorough hand hygiene. Hand sanitizers used should at least have limited virucidal efficacy.”

Dr. med. Andreas Glöckner, Medical Director

In general, vaccinations do not offer 100 percent protection against influenza viruses. In the case of other viruses, suitable vaccines are often not yet available – as is currently the case with the novel coronavirus (Covid-19). The number of new infections is steadily rising in China, as are the number of resulting deaths. Outside China, this trend is also being observed. In Europe, Italy has already reported several deaths caused by the coronavirus. As of Feb 23, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed nearly 80,000 coronavirus infections worldwide. As of Feb 24, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed nearly 80,000 coronavirus infections worldwide. [1]

The fear of spreading the virus is growing, especially of the virus gaining a foothold in weak healthcare systems. According to current knowledge, the basic replication rate of Covid-19 is 2.6. This means that an infected person infects “only” about 2.6 other people. In comparison, the rate for measles is between 15 and 18. The replication rate for influenza is around 2-3, dependent on the strain. So far, the majority of infections from the coronavirus have been relatively harmless in otherwise healthy individuals.

Nevertheless, there is growing panic that the virus cannot be contained and will become uncontrollable.

Hand hygiene as a key preventative measure.

In addition to droplet infections, smear or contact infections are important transmission pathways of viral pathogens. In both cases, thorough and regular hand hygiene is critical to combat viral infections and pathogens that cause illness in general.

In highly frequented areas and places where many people come together, germs can be transmitted quickly. In healthcare facilities, such as clinics and hospitals, disinfecting hands is an indispensable measure to protect patients, doctors, and their loved ones from contracting infections.

Visitors play an important role in infection control.

When choosing hand disinfectants, it is important to ensure that the preparations have a certain spectrum of activity. In the case of the novel coronavirus, alcohol-based rubs should have limited virucidal, limited virucidal PLUS or virucidal effects. For the inactivation of noroviruses, the spectrum of action is even more limited, so that only virucidal agents are effective.

To ensure effective protection against infection, opportunities for hand disinfection must be made widely available. Hospitals, clinics, and other highly-frequented areas open to the public, must ensure disinfectant dispensers are easily accessible by visitors and staff. Particular attention should be paid to entrance areas, so individuals can disinfect their hands upon entering and leaving the building. Touchless devices in particular are growing in popularity. Sensor-controlled operation is both more hygienic and more user-friendly, as evidenced in a number of scientific studies. [1]

Proper hand hygiene is a core component of infection prevention. At OPHARDT Hygiene, we are working to provide access to life-saving hygiene solutions. Contact us to learn more.


[1] World Health Organization (WHO): Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) – Situation Report – 35

[2] Scheithauer, S., Haefner, H., Koch, A., Lemmen, S. Increase of alcoholic hand disinfection performance due to new touchless dispensers. Abstracts of 21st ECCMID/27th


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