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The first week of December is National Handwashing Awareness Week, and you might be wondering why we're spotlighting the occasion. Maybe you're wondering what the big deal is -- you wash your hands every day. You've been washing them since you were a kid, when you begrudgingly stood in front of the sink to humor your parents and teachers. Hey, we don't like admitting ours were right, either, but there's very few things that you can do that are more beneficial to your health, and the health of the people around you.
If you work in a medical practice or a restaurant, or any other occupation where cleanliness is crucial to protecting the people you work with, you're probably more than familiar with the necessity of hand washing. But no matter what profession you're in, your day is full of objects likely to carry germs, from money and cell phones to computer keyboards and shopping carts. Washing your hands regularly and properly is the most effective way of reducing the risk of infection from the bacteria present throughout your day.
Reading studies about the prevalence of bacteria on hands and common items can be fuel for paranoia. But we're not here to scare you straight: Not all bacteria is harmful, and even the vast majority of harmful bacteria is too weak to sicken someone with a healthy immune system.
That being said, it helps to remember that not everyone has a healthy immune system. Children are still building theirs. People with chronic diseases may have a compromised system, especially those with HIV or Hepatitis. Elderly adults may also have a weakened immune system. Even if you personally might not be sidelined for long by a bout of food poisoning or the flu, these illnesses might be devastating to someone more vulnerable. Hand washing is not just an act of personal health, but one of public health.
Hand washing seems like a small act, but the diseases it can prevent are numerous and can be harmful even to someone with a strong immune system. These illnesses are incredibly contagious, and can include:
Occasions where hand washing is necessary can sometimes seem obvious, but these occasions can become just as habitual and easy to neglect as hand washing itself. How often do we eat meals without washing up beforehand or cough into our hands without washing them afterwards? Being mindful of these moments and taking the time to wash up is a great way to reduce the spread of illness and to keep ourselves healthy.
For a daily act, hand washing often seems to be inadequately practiced and understood. Studies by health organizations have regularly confirmed that people wash their hands improperly, most often for too little time or with too little attention to all the parts of our hands.
The most effective hand washing method is:
It's particularly important to teach children this method. Getting into the habit of proper hand washing early helps to create a good habit that will help children stay healthy, particularly while young and prone to sickness.
Beyond the basic washing method, here are some facts to keep in mind:
Now that summer's over, kids are back in school, we're all back in our workplaces, and winter's coming up, which means many of us will be indoors much more. The potential for illness to spread always rises in close quarters. Do your part in protecting your health and everyone's by practicing effective hand washing!