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Poor Personal Hygiene Spread Diseases

By Dr. Ramsha Zafar
Physician/Internal Medicine
Freelance Writer

Poor Personal Hygiene Spread Diseases
ناقص ذاتی حِفظانِ صحت سے بیماریاں پھیلتی ہیں۔
ख़राब व्यक्तिगत स्वच्छता से बीमारियाँ फैलती हैं
    Good hygiene is the passport to the land of good health.


The term “personal hygiene” describes the upkeep of bodily cleanliness. Given that access to the infrastructure that supports hygiene, such as soap, water, and sanitation, makes hygiene a structurally created personal concern at the individual level. According to a classist power system that guarantees capital and power accrue at the top and places the middle and lower-middle classes at the bottom of society, people’s access to this infrastructure depends on their class standing. Therefore, those from class positions without access to sufficient infrastructure supporting hygiene are the ones who lack hygiene and are therefore unable to engage in hygienic behaviors that would enable them to maintain decent hygiene. This takes the form of some traits that are indicators of social status, such as body odor and dirty appearance.

Poor personal hygiene arises from either intentional or unintentional neglect of your body’s cleanliness and health requirements. Your body begins to look unhealthy, you experience unwanted health concerns, and your overall well-being is affected.

Personal hygiene is a fundamental aspect of human health and well-being, yet it remains a significant problem in the modern world. Poor personal hygiene can lead to a myriad of health issues, social stigmatization, and broader public health concerns. While the prevalence and impact of poor personal hygiene are often more severe in underdeveloped countries, developed nations are not immune to this problem. This article explores the reasons behind poor personal hygiene, its consequences, and potential solutions to mitigate this pervasive problem.

Why hygiene matters

Personal Hygiene behavior and practices play a major role in health promotion and disease prevention. Socio-demographic, behavioral, and psychological factors sway a person’s overall adaptation of good practices. Disease burden leading to loss of productivity and its influence on the economy cannot be overstated. As medical professionals come in contact with a large number of people, they carry the potential to be super-spreaders in disease outbreaks. Thus, it is of utmost importance that medics and paramedics maintain hygiene to the highest standards.

Personal Hygiene matters when it affects your life or that of the people around you. In the most extreme cases, when left unattended, poor hygiene can breed disease that can affect you or others. For example, not washing your hands after you use the toilet, handle food, or touch dirty surfaces can spread bacteria, viruses, and parasites. These can lead to infections and diseases, like food poisoning, gastroenteritis, cold and flu, and hepatitis A — just to name a few.

Poor dental hygiene can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, which can also affect the heart. Not bathing can result in a skin condition called dermatitis neglecta and secondary infections.

An obvious lack of hygiene can also affect a person’s work and social life. Some companies have a hygiene policy in place for the protection of employees and company image, especially if you have a public-facing role. If you work in the food industry or in healthcare, proper hygiene is detrimental to the safety of everyone you’re in contact with.

Personal hygiene: it’s one of those delicate topics, but one that must be addressed. The effects of poor hygiene are far-reaching beyond the obvious health concerns. Failing to frequently wash your hands, brush your teeth, and take showers doesn’t just affect you. It affects everyone you interact with. So let’s talk about poor personal hygiene, its impact, and why we need to have daily routines to help keep our hygiene regimen headed in the right direction all the time.

As well as having negative social affects, poor hygiene and hand washing causes health problems. Poor hygiene can cause sickness and disease. Poor hygiene can also cause social rejection and may also lead to bullying, low confidence and low self-esteem.

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What is bad hygiene?
Bad hygiene can be broken down into two categories: personal hygiene and environmental hygiene.

Here are examples of both kinds.

  • Poor personal hygiene:
    • not showering often
    • not brushing teeth
    • not washing hands before or after handling food
    • not washing hands after using the toilet
  • Poor environmental hygiene:
    • not regularly cleaning areas that breed bacteria, like the kitchen and bathroom
    • leaving garbage sitting out
    • not cooking or storing food properly
    • not doing laundry often (clothing and sheets)
Signs of bad hygiene

Here are some signs that are indicative of poor hygiene in yourself or someone else:

  • Body Odor from not showering regularly
  • unwashed or disheveled hair
  • Bad Breath, food between teeth, or signs of tooth decay and gingivitis
  • wearing soiled clothing
  • dirty and untrimmed fingernails and toenails

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Ways to have good hygiene

Here are some easy ways to practice good hygiene:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day. Doing it when you get up and before you go to bed makes it easier to get into a routine. Remember: You only need to brush for 2 minutes for a good clean, so you can do it even if you’re short on time.
  • Wash your body daily. A quick shower or bath is all you need, as long as you cover the important parts (Think: pits and private bits). If access to water is limited, use a damp cloth or sponge to wash your genitals, around your anus, under your arms, between any skin folds, and under your breasts.
  • Wash your clothes and bedding regularly. Doing laundry once per week is sufficient, whether by machine or hand. If you need to re-wear clothing, a quick wash in the sink and hanging it to dry for the next day works fine. Keeping your body clean lets you extend the time between washing clothing and sheets.
  • Wash your hands often. If COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that washing our hands goes a long way in keeping us healthy and reducing the spread of illness. Remember to wash your hands before and after contact with shared, or potentially unsanitary or contaminated surfaces to protect yourself and others.
  • Wipe properly after going to the toilet. Wiping properly after going to the toilet will keep underwear clean and unpleasant odors at bay. Always wipe front to back to keep bacteria away from the urethra to avoid urinary infections. Body wipes or a bidet work, too. (Though keep in mind that wipes can make life hard for sanitation workers. So if you don’t need them, it’s best to stick with TP). If pain or a disability makes it hard to wipe, consider a toilet paper aid.
  • Wash your hair at least every 3 days. Most people don’t need to shampoo their hair more than daily. How often you should wash depends on how oily or dry your hair is, how much you sweat, and how much product you use. Every 2 to 3 days is fine for most people, but feel free to experiment by extending the time between washes. Bouncy shampoo commercial hair is nice, but a healthy scalp is the priority.

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Poor Personal Hygiene Prevalence in Developing Nations

In underdeveloped nations, inadequate personal hygiene is frequently associated with limited access to fundamental resources and infrastructure. A lack of sanitary facilities, a scarcity of hygiene supplies, and an inadequate water supply are problems that many communities encounter. It becomes challenging, if not impossible, to maintain personal cleanliness in these circumstances.

Poor Personal Hygiene Prevalence in Developed Nations

The problems associated with inadequate personal hygiene are more complicated in modern nations. Hygiene problems are caused by a variety of variables, including lifestyle choices, cultural variations, mental health disorders, and socioeconomic inequality, even with the abundance of facilities available. A lack of attention to personal hygiene can also result from the fast-paced lifestyle of wealthy nations.

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Reasons for Poor Personal Hygiene

Lack of Education

One of the primary reasons for poor personal hygiene is a lack of education. Many individuals are not adequately informed about the importance of maintaining hygiene and the practices necessary to achieve it. Education on personal hygiene is often inconsistent, with some people receiving comprehensive guidance while others receive little to none. Schools, parents, and community programs play a crucial role in disseminating information about hygiene practices, but gaps remain.

Alarming State of Personal Hygiene Among Hotel Workers and Tandoor Walas in Pakistan.

In Pakistan, the hospitality and food service industries are vital to the economy, providing employment and contributing significantly to the country’s cultural and culinary landscape. However, an ongoing issue that undermines these sectors is the poor personal hygiene of hotel workers and tandoor walas. This problem is particularly pronounced and poses serious health risks to customers. Common issues include:

Unclean Hands: Many workers neglect proper handwashing, leading to the handling of food with dirty hands. With those same unwashed hands, they knead the dough, embedding dirt and bacteria into every bite. Moreover, long nails caked with layers of dust and mud are a glaring testament to extremely poor hygiene.

Sweating: In hot kitchens, especially near tandoors, excessive sweating can lead to contamination if sweat drips into food or onto hands.

Lack of Handwashing Post-Toilet: A significant number of workers fail to wash their hands after using the toilet, resulting in the spread of harmful bacteria.

No Use of Gloves: Gloves are rarely used, and when they are, they are often not changed frequently enough to be effective.

Unsanitary Practices: Actions such as scratching the body, fingering the nose, or touching the face and then handling food are commonplace.

Unsecured hair can easily fall into customers’ food, compromising hygiene and customer satisfaction.

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Health Risks

The health risks associated with these unhygienic practices are severe. Foodborne illnesses can easily spread through contaminated food, leading to outbreaks of diseases such as typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A, and gastroenteritis. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that unsafe food causes 600 million cases of foodborne illnesses globally each year, with developing countries like Pakistan being particularly affected due to poor hygiene standards.

Real-World Incidents

Several incidents in Pakistan highlight the dire consequences of poor hygiene. For instance, in Karachi, a popular local eatery faced a scandal after several customers fell ill due to food poisoning. Investigations revealed that kitchen staff, including the tandoor wala, were not following basic hygiene practices. Similar incidents have been reported in Lahore and Islamabad, where food establishments were temporarily shut down due to health code violations linked to poor worker hygiene.

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Contributing Factors

Several factors contribute to the poor hygiene practices among hotel workers and tandoor walas in Pakistan:

Lack of Training: Many workers are not adequately trained in hygiene and food safety protocols. This is particularly true for tandoor walas, who often learn their trade informally.

Inadequate Facilities: Many food establishments do not provide adequate facilities for maintaining hygiene, such as sufficient handwashing stations and clean uniforms.

Cultural Attitudes: In some communities, there is a lack of awareness about the importance of personal hygiene in preventing disease transmission.

Economic Constraints: Low wages and long working hours can lead to worker fatigue and negligence in following hygiene practices.

Management Apathy: In some cases, the management of food establishments does not prioritize hygiene, focusing instead on cutting costs and increasing turnover.

A UNICEF report found that 22.2 million Pakistani residents do not have proper sanitation and toilets, in a country of 200 million; with around 10% of the population lacking such privileges, diseases like polio, XDR typhoid, diarrhea, hepatitis, and cholera take the center stage. These water-borne diseases lead to the death of nearly 94,000 people every year where 53,000, nearly 56.4%, of them are children under the age of 5

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Socioeconomic Factors

Socioeconomic status is a significant determinant of personal hygiene. Individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds often struggle to access basic hygiene products such as soap, toothpaste, and clean water. Financial constraints can force people to prioritize other essentials over hygiene products, leading to inadequate personal care. Many people neglect brushing their teeth due to economic constraints, resulting in bad breath and dirty yellow teeth. The lack of soap also leads to infrequent bathing, causing a sweaty smell and an unpresentable appearance. These hygiene issues make it difficult for others to interact with them comfortably. Additionally, inadequate living conditions, such as overcrowded housing and lack of sanitation facilities, exacerbate the problem.

Mental Health Issues

Mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders can lead to neglect of personal hygiene. Individuals struggling with these conditions may lack the motivation or energy to perform routine hygiene tasks. People with mental health issues are often sent out of their homes as no one wants to be with them. They end up straying on the streets with no money, no home, and no resources for personal hygiene. This exacerbates their condition and further isolates them from society.

Furthermore, the stigma associated with mental health can prevent individuals from seeking the help they need, thereby perpetuating poor hygiene practices.

Busy Lifestyles

The fast-paced nature of modern life often leads to people prioritizing work and other activities over personal hygiene. Long working hours, demanding schedules, and the pressure to balance multiple responsibilities can result in hygiene being neglected. This issue is particularly prevalent in urban areas where the hustle and bustle of daily life can overwhelm individuals, leading to shortcuts in personal care routines.

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Homelessness is a critical factor contributing to poor personal hygiene. Individuals who are homeless often lack access to basic hygiene facilities, such as showers and clean bathrooms. The transient and precarious nature of homelessness makes it challenging to maintain regular hygiene routines.

The Struggles of Maintaining Hygiene for Slum Dwellers in Pakistan and India

People living in jhuggis (slums) often lack access to essential facilities such as clean water, washrooms, shelter, and basic amenities. Their harsh living conditions make maintaining personal hygiene standards nearly impossible. These individuals, whose primary means of survival may involve begging, face numerous challenges in accessing sanitary resources. Without regular access to clean water, they cannot wash their hands or bathe regularly, increasing the risk of illness and infection. The absence of proper washrooms forces them to relieve themselves in unsanitary conditions, further compromising their health. Overcrowding in slums exacerbates these issues, as diseases can spread rapidly in close quarters.

Negligence or Indifference

Some individuals may not prioritize hygiene due to habits, depression, or lack of perceived importance.

The Hidden Health Risks of Street Food: A Closer Look at Hygiene Practices

In the bustling streets, people eagerly consume goolgappas, papri chat, dahi bhallas, and sweets, oblivious to the flies swarming around. Vendors, drenched in sweat under the scorching sun, prepare these delights with bare, grimy hands. Utensils are “cleaned” in a single, filthy bucket, reused from dawn to dusk without change. The water in this bucket turns murky and foul, yet serves both as a handwash and a cutlery cleaner. Hygiene is an afterthought as street food enthusiasts savor flavors, unaware of the invisible health risks lurking in every bite.

In the sweltering summer, vendors serve juices and goolas in grimy glasses, used by countless people without a single wash. Each sip carries the risk of disease as hygiene is blatantly ignored. The refreshing drinks become a cocktail of germs, endangering every consumer.

Poor Upbringing

Poor upbringing often correlates with poor personal hygiene habits, as individuals may not have been taught or encouraged to prioritize cleanliness and hygiene practices in their daily lives.


Unhygienic Habits: Spitting and Urinating on Roads

In underdeveloped countries, the bad habits of spitting on roads and urinating on the roadside are distressingly common. These unsanitary practices contribute to public health hazards and environmental pollution. Streets often reek with the stench of urine and spitting spreads diseases, making public spaces unpleasant and unsafe. The lack of proper sanitation facilities and public awareness exacerbates this issue.

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Lice Infestation
Body lice infestation is quite uncomfortable and hazardous to your health. These lice are small insects that live and lay eggs in clothing and bedding. They also feed on the residues found on your skin.

Lice tend to colonize in your armpits and groin, as these are the areas with a lot of humidity. So, it’s important to take regular baths, and wear clean, fresh clothes each day to avoid any lice infestation.

Avoid doing the following to stave off any such infestation:

Infrequent showering
Not changing your bedding at least every week
Not washing your clothes very well
Wearing dirty and/or smelly clothes

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The Disadvantages of Poor Hygiene

Adverse Impact on Your Social Life
Poor physical hygiene leads to visible markers of poor health in your body. This makes others see you as a source of infections and diseases. For example, excessive coughing and sneezing without any attempt to cover your mouth, and emitting foul odors will lead to people avoiding you. They also won’t tell you what’s wrong, because each person’s hygiene is his/her responsibility.

It Affects Your Presentation
Your presentation is more than your communication skills – it’s the total package. Poor hygiene can negatively affect your presentation. It makes people perceive you differently and they may even make wrong judgments about your abilities and performance.

Adverse Impact on Your Career
Having poor personal hygiene can hinder your career advancement as well. Persons with such issues may have difficulties being promoted or earning pay increases. Furthermore, you may be subject to:

Jokes about your poor hygiene that damage your reputation at work
Lower self-esteem and confidence in yourself
Concerns about the possibility that you may pass contagious illnesses to other members of your team.

Poor Personal Hygiene Dampens Your Romantic Life
No one wants to get close to someone with body odors, and who may be sick and/or contagious. So matters of lax personal hygiene will be a block to your ability to form a deep and meaningful romantic relationship.

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Our grooming routines not only make a statement about us, but also directly affect underlying health.

On a basic level, personal hygiene means cleaning and grooming your body, nails, hair, and teeth. It also extends to your clothing and the tools that you use for cleaning and grooming. Keeping spaces like your bathroom clean is often an extension of good personal hygiene.

What many people don’t often consider is how personal hygiene can affect numerous aspects of your life. It may improve health and limit the risk of illness or disease. It can also make you feel better about yourself, improve your work life, and make you more confident and approachable in social settings.

The effects go beyond physical health and socializing. Poor hygiene can cause or exacerbate depression or anxiety problems and make a person isolate themselves.

Many people learn oral hygiene and bathing habits at a young age and shaving, laundry, and other practices when they get older. Because of this progression, poor personal hygiene is a sensitive topic. You may be reluctant to bring up issues because you do not want to offend the person or criticize them for not doing something they should have learned at a young age.

However, this is an essential issue because hygiene choices have a profound impact on quality of life as well as mental and physical health. Here is a closer look at how proper and poor hygiene can affect your life.

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Improves Overall Health and Wellness
Personal hygiene helps you protect against certain diseases. It also brings a higher level of overall health and wellness. Your immune system and other essential systems within your body can function better if they are not being bombarded by preventable infections caused by poor hygiene practices.

Also, proper handwashing can limit the danger of contracting a cold or flu virus. Your hygiene practices can also affect those around you. If you are preparing food, caring for children, or working on surfaces used by others, unwashed hands may transmit bacteria, a virus, or other illnesses to those who are close to you.

Improves Personal and Professional Relationships
Poor hygiene may cause issues in social settings. Many people will find it unpleasant to be around someone with a bad body odor or breath. Others may feel that being around someone with inadequate hygiene will reflect poorly on their image in a workplace or social group.

If you have poor hygiene, this avoidance dynamic can make career advancement difficult. Furthermore, it can isolate you both at work and socially.

Those with good hygiene, however, will not experience this barrier when trying to connect with people socially or cooperate with co-workers professionally.

Social and Professional Acceptance
Personal cleanliness alone will not get you more friends or make a job promotion more likely. However, you might consider it a prerequisite for social and professional acceptance. Whether it is fair or not, good hygiene will help create an acceptable image with friends, professional peers, and decision-makers at work. Without the distraction of poor hygiene, making both social and professional connections easier.

Effects of Poor Personal Hygiene
Poor hygiene affects your outward appearance. Stained clothes, ungroomed hair, long, dirty nails, and oily, patchy skin are signs of a lack of personal care.

People often associate poor hygiene with unpleasant body odor, bad breath, or visible signs of dirt. Some people may also consider rashes, oily skin, or other preventable or treatable appearance flaws as examples of poor hygiene.

Here are some potential effects of poor hygiene.

Depleted Mental Health
Poor hygiene relates to mental health in two ways. First, an unclean appearance can cause social and professional isolation. Feelings of loneliness and failure caused by this isolation can harm your mental health and lead to chronic depression or social anxiety.

In some cases, the progression of poor hygiene and mental health issues gets reversed. People with depression may cease caring about hygiene practices. In these instances, the lack of cleanliness is a symptom of a mental disorder, not its cause.

Increased Health Risks
Poor hygiene can increase the risk of illness or disease. These are not diseases that you typically catch by chance, but rather are illnesses that come from a lack of personal cleanliness.

Many diseases that affect the skin surface and gastrointestinal tract come from poor bathing practices, wearing dirty clothes, and not washing your hands before handling food. The CDC’s list of hygiene-related illnesses also includes parasitic fungal infections that will remain in or on your body until they are treated.

Lack of Self-Esteem
Self-esteem and physical appearance are closely related to each other. How you care for your body and appearance is closely connected to your self-image. If people avoid you at work or in social situations because of poor hygiene, your self-esteem will likely suffer.

This can lead to a downward spiral with poor self-esteem, causing a why-bother view of personal hygiene and only leading to further avoidance and isolation.

Poor Physical Appearance
A lack of hygiene can also lead to a poor physical appearance. In some cases, an improper bathing regimen may cause skin issues or hair loss. You can reverse these physical appearance problems if you find an effective hair loss treatment or skin medication.

Such treatments can become a part of your hygiene routine going forward. By personalizing your regimen in this way, you ensure that you perform basic hygiene practices and also address specific issues needed for better mental and physical health. 

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