New UK research has found that washing hands six to ten times a day could lower the risk of seasonal coronavirus infections such as the common cold, a finding which supports the current guidelines recommending handwashing during the Covid-19 pandemic to prevent transmission of the infection.
Carried out by researchers at University College London, the new study looked at 1,633 participants who were asked about their hand hygiene habits.
At the start of the study, the subjects were asked to provide estimates of how often they had washed their hands the day before, ranging from less than five times (categorised as a low frequency of handwashing), six to ten times (moderate frequency) or more than ten times (high frequency).
The participants were also tested for coronavirus infections using nasal swabs.
The findings showed that handwashing six to ten times a day was linked with a 36% lower risk of contracting seasonal coronavirus, compared to those who washed their hands zero to five times per day.
However, a high frequency of handwashing — which is washing hands more than ten times per day — did not appear to decrease the risk further, although the researchers point out that the number of participants in this group was lower, which possibly affected the results.
The researchers say that the study, which has been published in Wellcome Open Research and has not yet been peer-reviewed, meaning it has not been verified by other experts, provides the first empirical evidence that regular handwashing can reduce an individual’s risk of catching seasonal coronavirus infection.
They add that it also supports current health guidelines which stress the protective effects of handwashing during the current Covid-19 pandemic, although the currently circulating Covid-19 is a novel coronavirus, meaning that it is new and has not been previously identified.
Covid-19 is not the same as seasonal coronaviruses, which already circulate amongst humans and can cause mild illness, like the common cold.
“Given that Covid-19 appears to demonstrate similar transmission mechanisms to seasonal coronaviruses, these findings support clear public health messaging around the protective effects of handwashing during the pandemic,” commented first author of the study, Sarah Beale, PhD.
“It’s important to highlight that frequency of handwashing is only one aspect of hand hygiene. We also know that both longer duration of handwashing and the context of handwashing — e.g. upon returning home or before eating — have been associated with lower overall risk of influenza or influenza-like-illness,” she adds.
“Good hand hygiene should be practised at all times regardless of whether you show symptoms or not. This will help protect yourself and prevent unwittingly spreading the virus to others around you.”