With cold months ahead, the festive season approaching, and the public spending more time socialising indoors, it will be a challenging time for the prevention of diseases such as influenza (flu), COVID-19, and the infections caused by norovirus and Group A Streptococcus. Practising good hygiene in our homes and in our everyday lives will support us to stay healthy and well as we spend precious time with friends and family. In playing our part to keep national infection rates down, we will protect the NHS from further strain and minimise absenteeism from work, schools, and day care – protecting incomes, already under threat through the cost-of-living crisis.
A poll* by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene (IFH) in April 2022 has shown how the pandemic has shifted public opinions on the importance of hygiene, putting us in a much better position to achieve this, as compared with January 2020. The poll showed:
- 79% of people agreed that Covid-19 has shown them why practising good hygiene is important to protect them against infectious diseases.
- 83% of people agreed that they have made a big effort during the pandemic to follow government advice and practise better hygiene
- 77% of people agreed that they intend to continue to make greater effort to practise good hygiene
- 70% of people believe that adopting hygiene behaviours to reduce transmission of infectious diseases is as important as changing behaviours to reduce climate change.
Dr Jyotsna Vohra, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at RSPH says: “Collectively, these results indicate that the public understand the significance of good hygiene and why practising it in their homes has been, and will continue to be, important to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.” This recognition and willingness to adopt good hygiene practices is important not only in the short term over this winter, but also to build greater resilience to future health threats including the future disease outbreaks and the possibility of future pandemics, and to tackle antibiotic resistance by reducing antibiotic prescribing. As stated in the 2019 UK Antibiotic Resistance Action Plan1 “Health and social care providers can only do so much to prevent infections; when it comes to acquiring and transmitting infections in the community, the public have a huge part to play”.
Yet while the public’s recognition and willingness to adopt good hygiene practices is an asset for our country’s public health, the survey revealed that there continues to be public misconceptions about when, where and how, to practise good hygiene to prevent the spread of infectious diseases:
- Almost a third of people (31%) mistakenly believed they could be infected by the virus penetrating the skin of their hands.
- 59% believed wearing gloves is an effective way to reduce Covid.
- 57% said “If someone in my home has Covid-19, the house needs to be deep cleaned to get rid of the virus”.
- 49% said “Since the pandemic I have started using antibacterial cleaner when cleaning my home”.
Professor Sally Bloomfield, Honorary Fellow of RSPH and Chairperson of IFH says: “Whilst government Covid advice focussed on “wash your hands frequently” and “how to wash them properly”, it gave little guidance on when and why we need to do this; people, misled by myths and misunderstandings, reported practising hand and surface hygiene in situations where it would be time-consuming, resource intensive and have little, or even a negative impact”.
To ensure that the public practise effective hygiene, IFH has developed a framework known as Targeted Hygiene2which is aimed at supporting government and public health agencies, by providing clearer practical guidance, developing better hygiene understanding and ensuring more sustainable use of hygiene products. Targeted Hygiene is a simple approach that starts by identifying the 9 key moments in our daily lives WHEN hygiene is important (e.g., handling raw foods, using the toilet), and the places WHERE we need to act at that moment (hands, surfaces etc). Thirdly it identifies HOW to practice hygiene (handwashing, surface cleaning, mask wearing etc). Rather than giving prescriptive guidance that needs to be memorized, Targeted Hygiene is communicated through visual content which engages the public by setting it out in the way we experience it in our daily lives.
These issues are explained in more detail in an RSPH/IFH document released today.3 IFH has also produced “simple practical guides” to show how the “when, where, how” approach works to prevent spread of respiratory infections and the winter vomiting norovirus.4,5
- HM Government. Tackling antimicrobial resistance 2019–2024 - The UK’s five-year national action plan [Internet]. HM Government; 2019 Jan 24 [cited 2022 Dec 15]. 98 p. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1070263/UK_AMR_5_year_national_action_plan.pdf.
- International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene. Breaking the chain of infection in our homes and everyday lives: a practical approach to encourage effective Targeted Hygiene [Internet]. International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene; 2022 Nov 03 [cited 2022 Dec 15]. 20 p. Available from: https://www.ifh-homehygiene.org/online-learning/breaking-chain-infection-our-homes-and-everyday-lives-practical-approach-encourage.
- Royal Society for Public Health. It’s time to clean up our act on home hygiene: embedding Targeted Hygiene for health resilience [Online]. Dec 2022. Available at: rsph.org.uk/TargetedHygiene.
- International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene. Keeping yourself free from COVID-19, flu and other respiratory infections this winter. WHEN, WHERE, HOW – a Practical Guide [Internet]. International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene; 2022 Dec [cited 2022 Dec 15]. 20 p. Available from: http://ifh-homehygiene.org/hygiene-advice-sheet/keeping-yourself-free-from-covid-19-flu-and-other-respiratory-infections-this-winter-when-where-how-a-practical-guide/.
- International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene. Keeping yourself safe from norovirus infection this winter – WHEN, WHERE, HOW – a Practical Guide [Internet]. International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene; 2022 Dec [cited 2022 Dec 15]. 20 p. Available from: http://ifh-homehygiene.org/hygiene-advice-sheet/keeping-yourself-safe-from-norovirus-infection-this-winter-when-where-how-a-practical-guide/
*Yonder conducted an online poll with a sample of 1730 adults from England aged 18+ between 12-14 April 2022. Data is weighted to be representative of the population of England. Targets for quotas and weights are taken from the PAMCO survey, a random probability survey conducted annually with 35,000 adults. Yonder is a founding member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. For further information see http://www.britishpollingcouncil.org/.
Royal Society for Public Health is an independent health education and campaigning charity, committed to improving and protecting the public’s health and wellbeing. We are the world’s longest-established public health body with over 5000 members who are committed to supporting the public’s health. Our activities include providing qualifications, e-learning, accreditation and programmes. We also campaign on a wide range of issues to support better health and wellbeing for the public.
IFH (www.ifh-homehygiene.org) is a not for profit, non-government organisation. It was established in 1997 with the aim of developing and promoting hygiene in our homes and everyday lives in public spaces, based on the available scientific evidence.