Posted on September 17 2018
It's International Clean Hands week from September 16 - 22, 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.
The Facts About Hand Washing
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 is the most effective and inexpensive way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
- 1 in 6 mobile phones, and as much as 94% of dollar bills have been found to be contaminated with waste.
- On average, only 38.7% of households practice hand washing with soap.
- Research on bathroom habits has shown that 95% of people don't wash correctly.
- Hand washing can reduce the mortality rates of respiratory and diarrheal diseases in children by almost 50%.
- In the United States, there are 48 million cases of foodborne illness per year.
- In areas where soap is unavailable, ash is used as a substitute. Sound strange? Ash is an alkaline material, which makes it a disinfectant.
What Does Hand Washing Fight Against?
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:
Respiratory infections: including the common cold.
- Diarrheal illnesses
- Foodborne illnesses: including norovirus
- Noscomial infections: hospital-based infections such as MRSA.
- Eye infections
- Strep throat
- Impetigo: a bacterial skin infection.
When to Wash Your Hands
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.
- Before, during, and after handling food. Particularly necessary when handling raw foods like meat, poultry, and fish.
- Before and after visiting or caring for someone with an illness .
- Before and after treating a wound.
- Before eating.
- Before feeding a child.
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- After contact with any other bodily fluids.
- After touching an animal, animal waste, or animal feed, including pet food and pet treats.
- After using the toilet.
- After changing diapers or cleaning a child who has used the toilet.
- After handling garbage.
- After hands become visibly dirty.
Tips for Effective Hand Washing
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:
- Wet your hands with running water and apply soap.
- Rub your hands together to make a lather and continue rubbing them for at least 20 seconds (Think of it as same amount of time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice!).
- Rinse your hands under running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or paper towel.
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:
- Soap and running water are the most effective ways to clean hands.
- Water temperature has little to no effect on the amount of microbes removed during washing.
- The most-missed parts of the hands when washing are the fingernails, between the fingers, and the back of your hands. Make sure you hit these spots!
- Be careful not to scrub too hard! Your skin is the first line of defense against bacteria, and abrasions can let germs in.
- Drying with towels or paper is the most effective drying method.
- Alcohol-based (60% alcohol or higher) hand sanitizers, gels, and antibacterial wipes can be useful substitutes when soap and water are not available.
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!