Handwashing, but how? Microbial effectiveness of existing handwashing practices in high-density suburbs of Harare, Zimbabwe

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Consistent domestic hand hygiene can reduce diarrhea-related morbidity and mortality and the spread of other communicable diseases. However, it remains uncertain which technique of handwashing is most effective and practicable during everyday life. The goal of this study is to determine how the handwashing technique, as performed in the daily life by the participants of this case study in Harare, Zimbabwe, influences microbial handwashing effectiveness.


Handwashing technique of 173 primary caregivers was observed in their homes and hand rinse samples were collected before and after handwashing. Samples were analyzed for Escherichia coli and total coliform concentrations. Generalized linear models were used to predict fecal hand contamination after washing from observed handwashing technique.


Cleaning under fingernails, scrubbing the fingertips, using soap, and drying hands through rubbing on clothes or a clean towel statistically significantly reduced E coli contamination of hands after washing. Tap use, scrubbing fingertips, and rubbing hands on clothes to dry them statistically significantly reduced total coliform contamination.


Recommendations for effective and practicable domestic handwashing in Harare, Zimbabwe, should include performing specific handscrubbing steps (ie, cleaning under the fingernails and rubbing the fingertips), and soap and tap use. This calls for further research to develop behavior change interventions that explicitly promote effective handwashing technique at critical times.

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