The hygiene essentials outlined by Florence Nightingale that we still follow today

Yesterday was the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the British nurse that revolutionised the profession. Her approach to caring for injured soldiers in the Crimean War (1853–1856) changed countless lives and her legacy (quite rightly) lives on. Today, her influence is more pertinent than ever, as official guidance resonates with her fundamentals of health and hygiene – and of course, the fact that she lent her name to the government’s Nightingale emergency hospitals. 

One key example is her emphasis on hand washing. In her book Notes on Nursing (1860), she wrote, “Every nurse ought to be careful to wash her hands very frequently during the day. If her face, too, so much the better.” She implemented this practice in the hospitals she managed on the battlefields in Crimea, preventing countless infections and saving lives.

Florence’s fundamentals of nursing

Although Nightingale didn’t fully subscribe to the notion that diseases are caused by microorganisms (the idea wasn’t really mainstream until she was in her sixties) she was still at the vanguard of hygiene practices in nursing. For example, the benefits of frequent handwashing had only been recently discovered; the advice was first published by Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis in the 1840s.

It was her attention to new research that made her such a trailblazer in her field. She also recognised that the home was a critical site for preventing infection. The same is true today; as per government advice, people are discouraged from congregating in private homes. This advice is backed by research; during Wuhan’s COVID outbreak, approximately 75-80% of infections were family clusters.

As a result, her book Notes on Nursing contained not only advice on medical care, but also public health in general. She gave advice about how to keep a clean and healthy home, and particularly advocated for ventilation. Nightingale suggested that people should open windows to maximise light, increase airflow and filter out “stagnant, musty, and corrupt” air. This, of course, chimes with the advice to keep spaces well ventilated to combat coronavirus.

A modern approach to old wisdom

Florence Nightingale fundamentally changed the way we think about health and hygiene, and in turn, saved thousands of lives. Since, we have built on these essential practices to keep hospitals, homes, and public spaces safe and healthy. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, we are applying these basic principles to keep ourselves and others safe with new tools and techniques like face coverings, sanitisers, and air filters. 

Moreover, new research is emerging all the time about the spread of respiratory diseases. Just last week, the CDC in the United States confirmed that coronavirus is, in fact, airborne. This means we need to do everything we can to make sure that all spaces are well ventilated. To achieve this, we need to turn to technology. Air purifiers like those provided by Rejuvenair can eliminate up to 99.9% of viruses and bacteria from the air – helping you follow Florence Nightingale’s time-honoured advice to the letter.