Ottawa doctor pens nursery rhyme to teach proper handwashing

An Ottawa doctor is trying to stop the spread of germs by teaching kids, and adults for that matter, how to wash hands effectively by reworking the nursery rhyme, Frère Jacques.

From 'thumb attack' to 'between the fingers,' song aims to boost public health

Nisha Thampi (right), infectious disease physician at CHEO, and her daughter Lekha Villeneuve (left), demonstrating the "thumb attack." (Haneen Al-Hassoun/CBC )

An Ottawa doctor has turned to song to teach kids — and adults, for that matter — how to wash their hands to prevent the spread of germs.

Dr. Nisha Thampi, an infectious disease physician at CHEO, the area's children's hospital, created a video set to the tune of Frère Jacques and featuring the six-step handwashing method recommended by the World Health Organization.

Thampi's 25-second rendition, which was co-authored by her daughter and Dr. Yves Longtin, an infectious disease specialist at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, is featured in the December issue of The BMJ, or British Medical Journal. 

Thampi said as an infectious disease physician and a mother of two, she thinks a lot about germs at home and school.

"I was trying to find a fun way to remember the stuff," she said. "There are six steps that have been codified by the World Health Organization, but they're complex and hard to remember." 

Watch the handwashing video below, or here:

Thampi said she came up with the idea to rewrite the lyrics to the nursery rhyme on World Hand Hygiene Day in May, when she was thinking about how to help people remember the technique. 

She said studies have shown that handwashing is effective in reducing the risk of diarrhea-related illnesses and respiratory diseases. 

"So I'd say it's one of the most important and easiest things we can do."

The video includes such often-overlooked steps as "wash the back," "twirl the tips around" and "thumb attack," which pays special attention to the first digit.

Six steps to handwashing, sung to the tune of Frère Jacques or Brother John:

  • Scrub your palms.
  • Between the fingers.
  • Wash the back, wash the back.
  • Twirl the tips around.
  • Scrub them upside down.
  • Thumb attack, thumb attack.

Thampi's aim is to help people develop hand hygiene muscle memory, correct bad habits and make public health gains, starting with kids, CHEO says. 

Proper handwashing can reduce the transmission of colds by up to 21 per cent; it can cut school absenteeism due to stomach illness by as much as 57 per cent; and it can reduce diarrhea cases by up to 40 per cent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

The Canadian Pediatric Society also recommends regular handwashing, especially before preparing or eating food and after using the toilet, wiping or blowing your nose, cleaning the house or handling pets.


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