NEW DELHI: Handwashing with soap can prevent acute respiratory infections (ARIs), according to the latest finding of a Lancet study which also claimed that mortality due to lung diseases was much higher in low and middle-income countries.  

“Handwashing with soap can prevent many ARIs by mechanically removing pathogens from hands and rupturing many bacteria and viruses. There is no biological reason to assume handwashing with soap interrupts transmission of upper and lower respiratory infections differently,” said the comprehensive study.

It estimates that around 270,000 to 370,000 people die annually because of inadequate hand hygiene. Most of these deaths occur in low-income countries due to a lack of access to water and soap. The study said that interventions promoting handwashing with soap reduced ARI morbidity by about 17 per cent.

According to the study, such interventions are essential to preventing ARIS in low-middle-income countries, accounting for 83 per cent of respiratory infection deaths. This is the first such comprehensive analysis of the effect of handwashing with soap since 2008.

The ARI includes upper and lower respiratory infections. Cough is a common symptom for both, while difficulty breathing results from lower respiratory infections. The study said the annual ARI mortality burden was endemic, with four per cent of global disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) and 2.5 million deaths in 2019.

“Previous systematic reviews have consistently found that interventions promoting handwashing with soap reduce acute respiratory infection (ARI). However, the most recent meta-analysis is for viral ARI only, and included only five studies in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs), where ARI burden is largest,” said the study giving the context of the latest exercise.

Stressing on launching awareness campaigns on handwashing, the study said, “In comparison with the attention given to handwashing during epidemics of respiratory disease, handwashing campaigns in normal times are rare. The scarcity of such movements might be a missed opportunity, and promoting handwashing with soap more broadly could reduce the large endemic burden of respiratory disease.”

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